An alternative to overseeding

A Kansas course finds designated fairway crossovers solve the issue of perennial problem areas coming out of winter months. 


fairway crossover
By designating dedicated fairway crossover locations in the winter months, a Midwestern superintendent found a way to help his bermudagrass rebound in the spring — without resorting to largely ignored cart-path-only restrictions.Photos by Matt Miller

For several years at Carey Park Golf Course in Hutchinson, Kan., we have struggled with several areas of our bermudagrass fairways making it through the winter months. When these areas would come out in the spring, they would be thin or even bare in spots, especially high-traffic areas or areas where the fairways narrowed, particularly entry and exit areas.

For a while, we restricted carts to the paths only during the winter. I received a lot of pushback on this. The golfers would tell me, “When the last guy put these fairways in, we were told we would only have to stay off for five years,” or, “Nobody else has to stay on the path all winter” or some similar reason to try to get us to change the policy.

Our facility used orange flags on carts for golfers with special needs or circumstances to be able to get off the cart path. After a few years, about 80% of our players had the orange flags (even golfers who walked to play during the summer), so only a few carts were staying on the path. At that point, we simply eliminated the path-only rule, as the few golfers who actually seemed to care about the course would probably drive there anyway. Those bad areas got worse every year, especially when the weather allowed more rounds through the winter. We had grown to accept that these areas just wouldn’t be very good in the spring.

fairway crossover

fairway crossover

fairway crossover

fairway crossover
Four seasons of the designated crossover on the 17th fairway at Carey Park in Hutchinson, Kan. From top: The clearly marked crossover in November; the area at peak dormancy in winter; coming out of dormancy in April; and greened up in June.

We decided to overseed to maybe offer those weak areas more protection. We drilled perennial ryegrass in the fairways. That proved fairly unsuccessful, since the spots were all still there in the spring, albeit maybe a little smaller. This process was acceptable and a little better, but we had a severe winterkill winter in 2014, and it seemed to relate directly to the overseeding process. We drilled in the seed, but the slits did not heal completely prior to going into winter, and it appeared the mechanical disturbance of the ground allowed more cold air in and caused much of the injury. We were forced to sod our four worst holes to zoysia and seeded some other areas hit pretty hard, some with ryegrass and some with bermudagrass seed. We continued to overseed for a couple of years but would simply broadcast seed on the fairways rather than drilling it in. That didn’t fill in as fast but still looked OK in the spring. However, our bad spots were still there.

We put up some ropes and tried to control traffic that way, but many stakes just got run over, or the spots moved to the sides of the ropes. We didn’t have the means to rope every hole and needed a better solution. Upon seeing some signage for crossover areas, I decided to try something different. In the fall of 2018, I took our pro out for another perspective, and we went around the course and planned out crossover areas. I painted red lines to guide traffic across our fairways in designated spots to avoid the trouble areas. We established two crossovers per par-4 fairway and three crossovers per par-5 fairway. Everywhere else, including par-3s, we allowed traffic in the rough only. This way, the golfers did not have to stay on the path all winter and could get to their golf balls more easily. Most of the golfers accepted this change and tried to comply. The next spring our typical bad areas were much fewer and smaller than in previous years.

We decided to continue this practice moving forward and continued to evaluate each spring. The spots got better each year, and we don’t usually see the crossover areas for long once the grass gets growing in the spring. We had a couple of “pinched areas” that we would lose the majority of each winter that suddenly had grass in the spring. We have continued this process the past couple of years and have noticed great success and much better fairways. Better fairways in the spring have translated to better fairways throughout the year.

fairway crossover
A view down the fairway of Carey Park Golf Course’s par-4 No. 17 hole in-season. The author establishes two fairway crossovers per par-4 hole and three for each par-5 in the offseason, while carts are restricted to rough areas on all the par-3s.

We knew there was potential for new bad areas in the crossovers. We made the crossovers about two carts wide and tried to place them in areas we could manage if they suffered. We could do some extra aerification or even sodding or seeding in these areas if needed, but at least they wouldn’t be up around the greens.

We haven’t had much of an issue with the grass in the crossovers.

The first year, we could easily see where the crossovers had been into the growing season, but they were still not thin like the old areas were. We have learned that we need to try to avoid north-facing slopes for the crossovers. Now, we can’t even tell where the crossovers were after the grass gets growing.

During the winter of 2020/2021, we had a two-week stretch during which the nighttime temperatures were steadily below zero and approached minus 20. The daytime highs did not get above freezing either. Most of the country felt this cold blast, and many courses were adversely affected, I’m sure. We were very afraid of what was going to happen to our warm-season fairways, but we actually came through with very little damage. We had a couple of north-facing slopes that suffered some damage and had to be repaired, but we did not have to purchase sod for that. We were able to use sod from the golf course.

I had two crossovers that had a little damage in them. Both were located near the beginning of the fairways, so we did not do anything except aerify and fertilize them to help get them repaired. This year, I adjusted those crossovers a little to avoid excess wear on the already-stressed areas. Overall, I am extremely happy with the results and plan to continue the crossovers indefinitely. The golfers seem to like that they can still drive to their ball, and they do a pretty good job of always using the marked areas. Out of sight of the clubhouse, we still see some tracks in the fairways on occasion, but we have not seen damage from that small amount of traffic to date.

Matt Miller is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Carey Park Golf Course in Hutchinson, Kan., and a 28-year member of the association. He is a past president of both the Kansas GCSA and the Kansas Turfgrass Foundation.