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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

OSU Bermuda Grass Goes Pro

Changes in Latitudes

OSU turfgrass is fit for the pros.

Story by Leilana McKindra

Professional, college and even casual athletes across the nation keep trampling all over the pride of Oklahoma State University, and scientists in the school’s turfgrass research program couldn’t be happier. 

The program enhanced its reputation this summer when the NFL’s Washington Redskins installed one of the university’s newest varieties, Latitude 36, on their home playing surface at FedEx Field.
The Tennessee Titans followed suit shortly after and installed the turfgrass at LP Field. The 2013 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles have sodded practice fields with
the variety.

“The NFL is the ultimate for any football player, so we are delighted that a Bermuda grass created by OSU experts has reached this pinnacle of success,” says OSU President Burns Hargis. “The NFL also is the ultimate test of a turf’s durability, and we’re confident the teams will be pleased with the performance of Latitude 36.”

Sales of Latitude 36 began last year after it was released in 2010. Nine outlets nationwide, including two in Oklahoma, are sublicensed to produce the grass through OSU’s licensing firm Sod Solutions. The grass was named after the research farms instrumental in developing the variety, which lies at about 36 degrees north latitude (36° 7’15.14” N).

Despite being a newcomer to the market of high-end turf Bermuda grasses, the award-winning variety is poised for popularity, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. 

“This is just the front end of this. It takes about three to five years to gear up the material and the production once you’ve released it,” says Dennis Martin, OSU Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist and one of the five OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources researchers credited with developing the new grass. 

Other members of the Latitude 36 research team are Jeff Anderson and Justin Moss from the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Yanqi Wu and Charles Taliaferro from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.  

Latitude 36 is ideal for use in the transition zone, parts of the eastern, western and southern United States where traditional Bermuda grasses tolerate summer conditions, but can experience winter-kill during particularly cold winters. 

The grass is well-suited for sports fields, golf course fairways and tee boxes, commercial grounds and residential lawns because of its tolerance for traffic and recuperation rate. Latitude 36 also has better cold hardiness and excellent color, texture, density and uniformity. 

Latitude 36 was intensively tested at OSU for seven years before researchers at other land-grant universities in the southern U.S. and the central transition zone working through the National Turf Evaluation Program examined the grass. At the conclusion of the 2007-2012 NTEP trials, Latitude 36 claimed overall top honors in the national Bermuda grass test. Latitude 36 will be part of the 2013-2018 NTEP trials as a standard for quality and performance.

While FedEx Field and LP Field are the first NFL fields to showcase Latitude 36, the University of Virginia is among the first colleges and universities to install the new Bermuda grass at its athletic facilities. The Cavaliers have sodded their home track, football and baseball facilities with Latitude 36. Virginia’s track was the first large-scale field in the nation to use the variety. 

With the Charlottesville-based campus being located in the transition zone, Jesse Pritchard, the Cavaliers’ sports turf manager, looks for attractiveness, recoverability and cold hardiness in a Bermuda grass. 

“Latitude 36 was the first variety to come on the market I felt was very highly ranked in all three of those categories,” he says.

Pritchard says the fields with the grass were in better shape when the grass emerged from its winter transition this spring compared with his previous eight years using other varieties. He says the fields will need less annual sodding and save the university money. 

“We’re all in with Latitude 36,” Pritchard says. “Any new facility that gets renovated, that’s the direction we’re going.”

Cavaliers’ sports fields aren’t the only venues turning to Latitude 36. Jim McHenry, sales manager for Oakwood Sod Farm in Delmar, Md., and one of the producers of the grass, says there’s been strong interest from operators of golf courses and athletic facilities. 

Golf courses like the finer texture and cold tolerance of the variety, he says, while athletic facilities appreciate its aggressiveness and wear tolerance.  

McHenry says athletic facilities are converting to Latitude 36 because of its traffic tolerance, while golf course operators are discovering the grass is a great fit for driving-range tees. The grass can recover from divots in a week to 10 days.  

Facilities with Latitude 36

FedEx Field (Washington Redskins)

LP Field (Tennessee Titans)

Philadelphia Eagles practice field

Baltimore Ravens practice field

University of Virginia track,
football and baseball fields

Columbia Country Club
(Chevy Chase, Md.)

“I think the popularity of Latitude 36 will continue to grow, especially as people become more familiar with it,” McHenry says. 

The fact that Latitude 36 is gaining notice nationally is a good indication researchers did their jobs well, Martin says. 

“It’s very important the intended audience is confident enough to install and use Latitude 36. That means that not only did we do our job and assess the market correctly, but also that the market is accepting the product,” Martin says.
Mike Woods, interim vice president, dean and director of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, says Latitude 36 is another variety in a long line of high quality products developed by OSU’s turfgrass research program. 

“The program has a strong history of success as evidenced by the high-profile national and international venues that use its products,” Woods says. “We’re proud of these accomplishments and look forward to continued cutting-edge research.”

Riviera, an OSU-seeded Bermuda grass, was used on two baseball fields at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as on the infield at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium. Latitude 36 is yet to be used on campus in Stillwater, in part because none of the variety is ready for harvest from farms within the state. The first sod should be available from Oklahoma-based producers later this year. 

Other OSU-developed varieties are used on campus. 

Another OSU variety, Patriot, and Riviera are in the new Athletic Village practice facility. Patriot eventually replaced Riviera on the Reynolds Stadium infield. Patriot is also on the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles, the practice fields of the Indianapolis Colts, the Purdue University football field and the Chesapeake Energy Green Roof Sports field in Oklahoma City.