Japanese culture is serious about sports. From the traditional—such as sumo wrestling, to western—such as baseball, the culture embraces athletic prowess and sportsmanship from Tokyo to Okinawa. With roughly 2,500 courses sprinkled throughout the country, it should come as no surprise that the Japanese people also have a serious love for the game of golf.
From a golf course operations perspective, Japan presents a unique challenge. From a climate standpoint, the country sits on roughly the same latitude as Georgia and experiences similar weather patterns. Generally speaking and depending on the region, summers tend to be hot and humid while winters are short and cold. With such variance, finding a suitable type of grass to stand up to such differences is extremely challenging. To address this issue, many golf courses throughout Japan feature a two-greens system: two greens on each hole – one for the summer months and another for the winter.
Summer greens are typically seeded with either bermuda or zyosia grass, as this strain responds particularly well to heat. Winter greens are often comprised of bentgrass, which thrives in cooler temperatures. The resulting two-green system allows golfers to play quality conditioned greens year-round despite the extreme differences in temperature season to season.
This system isn’t perfect however, particularly for superintendents. While only one green may be in play, the other green still requires regular maintenance and attention in order to be ready to go once the appropriate season rolls around. Because of this, the superintendent has a larger workload as well as higher operating costs. Additionally, an extra green can also mean extra green-side bunkers, overhanging tree limbs, and other aspects of upkeep beyond the green itself.
This system, which for the most part is unique to Japan, was developed in the early part of the 20th century, well before the development of of several turf-specific hybrid grasses. Modern science has helped develop several unique strains, such as A-4 bentgrass, that respond well year-round. With the advent of these new strains, several prominent courses throughout Japan are beginning the process of converting to a one-green system, seeded with hybrid strains to withstand the yearly changes climates and temperatures.