FAYETTEVILLE – So, how exactly do you simulate 30 rounds of golf on 128 turfgrass plots? With grad students.

“Backbreaking work,” is the phrase Doug Karcher, professor-horticulture and turfgrass researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, used to describe the rigors of this research. “We bought all of our research techs a pair of shoes with a sole that was fairly aggressive.”

While today’s golf shoes are light years from metal spikes, they must still be comfortable and offer the player enough traction in the grass to anchor an effective swing. That same traction also means the shoe carries the potential to tear the turf.

With U.S. golf courses averaging more than $900,000 a year in maintenance, knowing what types of soles are best for the turf is essential, officials say. (See: http://www.golfcourseindustry.com/article/state-of-golf-industry-reinvestment/).

The testers were sent out to the plots in the morning striding and squatting in imitation of golfers walking and picking up their balls; a ritual that at times looked something like a conga line with rainbow feet.

“The golf shoes we wore to implement the treatments were rather ‘flamboyant’,” said grad student Dan Sandor. “The shoes were predominantly a royal blue color, accented with bright orange toes and heels coupled with lime-green shoe laces. Way too colorful for probably anyone of our group, or even just for regular golf play in general.”

Karcher said: “People were slowing down from the road to watch.”

“I know for some, repeatedly bending down — i.e., essentially doing squats/working out — at that hour in the morning was not ideal and the effects of the ‘exercise’ were felt and expressed later on in the afternoon, and sometimes even the next day,” Sandor said. “However, it seemed to be a fun group exercise and clearly a ‘non-scientific’ method to determine who was the more fit or in-shape of our team.”

The tests were something of a flashback for grad student Michelle Wisdom, who is currently working on research about pollinators.

“It was like we’d been dropped into a ballet class,” she said. “I remember floating from one plot to the next, practicing my demi-plié although after several minutes I think ‘PLODDING’ and ‘TRIPPING’ and ‘COLLAPSING’ might be better terms for what was going on,” she said. “We had fun, though, because that group of people always had fun together.”

To learn more about turfgrass research visit https://horticulture.uark.edu/research-extension/turf/.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.

— Mary Hightower is director of Communication Services at the U of A System Division of Agriculture.