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Georgia-bred turfgrasses may soon blanket Cuban golf courses, resorts By Sharon Dowdy

University of Georgia-licensed turfgrass may soon be growing on Cuban golf courses, sports fields and resorts.

Through a new cooperative agreement, the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ turfgrass research team is working with Luis Hernandez, a scientist at the University of Matanzas in Matanzas, Cuba.

The best grasses for Cuba

“Cuban research focuses on management and identification of grasses best adapted for Cuba, which has a 12-month growing season,” said Clint Waltz, a turfgrass specialist with UGA Cooperative Extension.

In February, Waltz visited Hernandez at the Indio Hatuey Research Station in Cuba and at Cuba’s only championship golf course at Varadero Beach.

Hernandez came to Georgia last month for a turfgrass tour led by Waltz. Here, Hernandez toured the UGA Golf Course in Athens, the Atlanta Athletic Club, Piedmont Park, Turner Field, East Lake Golf Club and Pike Creek Turf in Adel.

“He was able to talk with all the individuals that manage these sites about how they manage turf in different conditions and about their clients’ expectations,” Waltz said. “Baseball is Cuba’s national sport, so I really wanted him to see Turner Field, as he has worked with the national stadium in Havana. And Pike Creek holds some of UGA’s international-licensed grasses so they have the ability to ship grass internationally.”

Shipping grasses across the world

Most of the turfgrass varieties Pike Creek Turf ships are UGA-developed varieties with the most popular being Tifway bermudagrass, said Jaimie Allen, the company’s president.

“We also ship a lot of Tifdwarf, TifEagle and SeaIsle Supreme,” he said.

Pike Creek ships turfgrass internationally to China, Vietnam, Spain, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Mexico, Dubai, Indonesia,The Philippines, Morocco and The Dominican Republic, Allen said.

While in Georgia, Hernandez also took a behind-the-scenes tour of the turfgrass research programs on the UGA campuses in Griffin and in Tifton.

Sharing UGA's knowledge and resources

“Cuba is just beginning a breeding program, so it’s obvious that the technology we have developed over the past 50 plus years will help solve some of their issues in making their golf courses sustainable and meeting the needs of their fast-growing tourism industry,” Waltz said. “They want to build resorts and resort-style golf courses, and the grasses they currently have won’t meet those needs.”

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism hopes to build 15 to 20 golf courses in Cuba over the next five to 10 years, Waltz said. UGA researchers will soon begin testing grass varieties in Cuba to determine which are best suited for the country’s soils and climate.

“I would hope shipping to Cuba would give UGA greater exposure in the international market,” Allen said. “Getting in on the ground floor of this venture will help Georgia producers play a large role in providing grasses for Cuba’s needs.”

According to the UGA Research Foundation, UGA warm-season turfgrass varieties can be found on golf courses and other sites on every continent except Antarctica.

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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