It’s nearly impossible to get rid of. Golf course greens keepers have spent thousands of dollars trying to kill it. Indian Canyon pro Gary Lindeblad compared it to cancer. Golfers at this year’s U.S. Open at Chamber’s Bay golf course blamed missed shots on it.
Poa annua is an invasive grass species that thrives in cool, moist climates and germinates quickly, which allows it to spread. “It’s the strongest, most enduring plant there is on the golf course,” Lindeblad said. “It’s like fighting with your wife. You think you’ve won, but you haven’t.”
Still, Lindeblad thinks the Chambers Bay golfers’ complaints had more to do with the surfaces they’re used to playing on, and less a legitimate gripe.
“A lot of these guys are used to playing on perfect courses,” he said.
Poa isn’t necessarily a bad grass to play golf on, as long as you care for it properly, he said. Seed heads at the top of the grass open in the sunlight, which can change the playing surface.
“That’s when you want that early-morning tee time,” Lindeblad said.
Although there is plenty of poa at Indian Canyon, Lindeblad said it’s not much of a problem.
“Right now the greens here are the best they have been in 10 years,” he said.
Lawn owners also have to deal with poa.
Anna Kestell, education and clinic coordinator for Spokane County/Washington State University Extension, called poa “a real bugaboo.”
Part of the problem, she said, is that the grass adapts to mowing. If you mow a patch of poa, it won’t grow as tall the next time. This allows the grass to release its seeds, Kestell said.
“Once poa gets in, it’s very difficult to get rid of, because some of the seeds can lie dormant for four to five years,” she said.
Ultimately the best policy is having a healthy lawn, with strong local grasses that can compete against poa. But even that isn’t a sure-fire way to keep it contained.
“If you’re a brand new golf course you can keep it out,” said Jim Jenson, course manager at Deer Park Golf Club.
But with each passing year, a little more poa creeps in. Deer Park, which is about 20 years old, is about 50 percent poa, Jenson said. Lindeblad estimates that Indian Canyon, which is 80 years old, is between 80 and 90 percent poa.
“It’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger of grasses,” Lindeblad said.
Harold Wood, a sales representative for Landmark Turf & Native Seed, said his company is militant about poa, because a contamination can wipe out an entire stockpile of seed.
There is a long-standing poa annua quarantine in the state of Washington. Any seed stock being moved in has to be tested and shown to be poa-free.
“It’s like a squatter,” Lindeblad said. “You can’t get it out of there.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.