Bentgrass on Golf Courses

Augusta National greens, such as this one, are sodded with bentgrass.
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Bentgrass is a type of turfgrass used on some golf courses. It is classified as a a "cool-season grass," which means it grows far better in cooler climates than in warmer ones. Bentgrass (colloquially, it is often just shortened to "bent") is commonly the first choice of grass for putting greens in any location where it can be grown.

Characteristics of Bentgrass

Bentgrass is characterized by very thin blades that grow densely and can be very closely mowed, resulting in a felt-like smoothness to the putting surface. It has a shallow, dense root system and its density helps protect it against foot traffic.

Bentgrasses are tolerant of cold, but not too fond of heat. Most golf courses in warmer locales use a different type of grass, such as a variety of the heat-tolerant bermudagrasses.

Is decades past, bentgrass was often thought of as a Northern golf course turf, and bermudagrass as a Southern turf. But over the past 20-30 years, through breeding programs, varieties of bentgrass that are more tolerant (relative to previous strains) of warmer temperatures have been developed.

Still, though, a golf course in a hotter location that wants to have bentgrass greens will probably have to install air conditioning for its grass: literally, a cooling system under the greens that keeps the ground temperatures cool enough for bentgrass to thrive. Such systems are expensive to install, so this option is most typically found at upscale resorts and private clubs.

One such club is Augusta National Golf Club. In 1981, Augusta National converted its bermudagrass greens to bentgrass. A sub-green cooling system (along with the breeding of hardier bentgrasses) made it possible.

Hazeltine National Golf Club, a northern course, adopted bentgrass in 2010, and a blog post on the club's website goes over the reasons for preferring bentgrass as a putting surface.

Archaic Meaning of 'Bent' on Golf Courses

Before grasses of the genus Agrostis became known as golf course bentgrasses, long before they were called "bent" for short, there was another meaning for the term "bent" on golf courses.

According to The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms, "bent" was originally a Scottish term that referred to clumps or tufts of long, coarse grass on a golf course. This meaning dates at least to the 18th century, probably earlier, but it is rarely used by golfers today. (It's interesting that today's bentgrasses, in their characteristic smoothness as a putting surface, are almost the exact opposite of that original meaning of "bent.")