The process of developing a new turfgrass variety is prolonged, deliberate and arduous. But sometimes, one of these new varieties completes the process with flying colors and becomes accepted as an exciting new option in the turfgrass community.

Count Latitude 36 bermudagrass in that category.

What it is

Developed by Oklahoma State University, Latitude 36 (OKC 1119) is a sterile hybrid, vegetatively-propagated (no commercial seed) turfgrass. Its characteristics include a fine texture, high density and improved cold-hardiness along with “outstanding color, quality and divot recovery rate,” according to Oklahoma State.

Blake Anderson (@sportinturf29), assistant director of sports turf operations at the University of Arkansas, tweeted this closeup of sixday old Latitude 36 turfgrass earlier this year. Latitude 36 is noted for its strong wear tolerance and high resistant to spring dead spot.

Latitude 36 — which utilizes the prior success of Patriot bermudagrass — was tested for seven years at Oklahoma State before entering its national testing phase. The grass then underwent rigorous independent evaluation by researchers at landgrant universities across the Southern U.S. and the Central transition zone through the National Turf Evaluation Program (NTEP). At the conclusion of the 2007-2012 NTEP bermudagrass trials, Latitude 36 claimed overall top honors after showing high resistance to spring dead spot and displaying exceptional wear tolerance.

“The NTEP tests are closely followed by field managers,” says Roberto Gurgel, director of research at Sod Solutions. “Field managers want to know what’s coming down the pipeline. With that being said, they knew about Latitude 36 before it was released, thanks to these tests. They knew it had good potential, not only as a national grass, but for their own particular area. These NTEP results created an instant demand for Latitude 36.”

Gurgel, a turfgrass breeder and researcher who began working for Sod Solutions in 2003 and developed Empire zoysiagrass, points out that one of the bigger advantages Latitude 36 has over comparable varieties is its tendency for “outstanding, early spring green-up,” among others. “Field managers and golf course superintendents want something that covers quickly, recovers quickly and provides a good, safe surface for the athletes. In fact, Latitude 36 and NorthBridge (also developed at Oklahoma State) bermudagrasses were the first grasses to consistently rank better than Tifway 419 for safety concerns, which has been documented by research from the University of Tennessee.”

Another important characteristic of Latitude 36, according to Gurgel, is its resistance to spring dead spot. “[Spring dead spot] makes a lot of field managers scratch their heads,” Gurgel explains. “Because normally it happens in the spring, which is a very difficult time of year, as you’re trying to green-up the grass. You also have to use fertilizer. But that extra fertilizer can be a source of increased disease on turfgrass, as it makes the grass tender and soft, making it easier for diseases to establish. Latitude 36 and NorthBridge don’t have that problem. They’re very resistant to spring dead spot.”

Gurgel points out that while Latitude 36 is still relatively new, its reviews have been excellent. “It takes a while to get turfgrass varieties established,” he says. “Latitude 36 is very popular because everybody talks about it, and everybody wants it. Early on, the demand surpassed the production of it. Field managers talk to other field managers who have it, and the reviews are always very positive. I don’t recall any bad reviews of it, so far.”

Dr. Dennis Martin, professor and turfgrass extension/research specialist at Oklahoma State, is one of the recorded inventors of Latitude 36 and NorthBridge bermudagrasses (along with Drs. Yanqi Wu, Charles Taliaferro, Jeff Anderson and Justin Moss, all of Oklahoma State). “The new focus is not just producing the old good traits,” Martin told The Oklahoman earlier this year. “Now we’re improving drought resistance to try to get the very elite drought-resistant types.”

Bobby Dodd Stadium, home of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, features Latitude 36. Chris May, director of athletic grounds and sports turf at Georgia Tech, took this photo on Sept. 10.

Where it is

Being a bermudagrass, Latitude 36 is an ideal choice for Southern and transition zone fields. It’s been ideal so far in Frisco, Texas, the home of Toyota Stadium and FC Dallas of Major League Soccer.

“We love everything about our Latitude 36,” says Allen Reed, CSFM, Toyota Stadium’s director of grounds. “One thing that stands out to me is its quick recovery from maintenance or events. With us having short windows between events, it’s important for us to be able to still do our routine maintenance. With Latitude’s quick recovery, this is possible and we still have the pitch playable for the next match.

“The other thing is that our Latitude will keep its color late into the year as temperatures cool and less sunlight is available with shorter days,” Reed adds. “This is important for us due to the MLS schedule running into November/December. Also, we host high school football in the fall as well. With the two sports schedules overlapping, the Latitude’s recovery and color late in the year is a huge plus.”

About 200 miles south of Frisco is College Station, home of Texas A&M University and Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, the Aggies’ baseball facility. Latitude 36 was installed there in late August, and groundskeeper Nick McKenna (@aggiefieldguy) tweeted Aug. 29 that the sod was “progressing nicely.” Texas A&M begins hosting baseball games in mid-to-late February. “I’ve been very impressed with [Latitude 36],” McKenna tells SFM. “We’ve been experimenting with it for two-plus years now and have been very happy with the results thus far.”

Toyota Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, also features a Latitude 36 surface.

As for other notable places where Latitude 36 can be found, or has been used:

  • Not long after it was made commercially available by Sod Solutions in 2011, the Baltimore Ravens installed Latitude 36 (upgraded from Tifway 419) at one of its practice facilities in April 2012.
  • Staying in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles have all either used, or currently use, Latitude 36 at their practice and/or game facilities.
  • As far as Major League Baseball, the Kansas City Royals have utilized Latitude 36 at Kauffman Stadium. Dennis Klein, sports turf manager at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas — home of the Texas Rangers — replaced the stadium’s Tifway 419 with wall-to-wall Latitude 36 after the 2014 season. Klein told SFM earlier this year that he’s a big proponent of Latitude 36. “It’s a good-looking grass, it recovers quick and it’s harder to ding up than Tifway 419,” he said.
  • Several Southern universities and many in the transition zone use Latitude 36 at their facilities, including the University of Virginia (Scott Stadium and Lannigan Field), University of Arkansas (Baum Stadium) and Bobby Dodd Stadium (Georgia Tech).
  • One university that’s a bit of an outlier for typical Latitude 36 climate is Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana (about 130 miles southeast of Chicago). Ross-Ade Stadium, home of the Boilermakers football team, now features Latitude 36. “Latitude 36 now has a growing popularity in the Northern climates,” Gurgel says. “Purdue is pretty far north for a bermudagrass to get established, being near Chicago. This shows us that Latitude 36 is starting to spread into areas that are not traditionally bermudagrass areas, which is great.”

Some of the Venues Featuring Latitude 36 Bermudagrass

FedEx Field | Washington Redskins
Globe Life Park | Texas Rangers
Toyota Stadium | FC Dallas
Children’s Mercy Park | Sporting KC
Scott Stadium | University of Virginia
Lannigan Field | University of Virginia
Simmons Field | University of Missouri
Olsen Field | Texas A&M University
Ross-Ade Stadium | University of Purdue
Wallace Wade Stadium | Duke University
Durham Bulls Athletic Park | Durham Bulls
Baum Stadium | University of Arkansas
Lane Stadium | Virginia Tech
Bobby Dodd Stadium | Georgia Tech
Smokies Stadium | Tennessee Smokies
The Diamond | Richmond Flying Squirrels/Virginia Commonwealth University

* Editor’s note: This is only a partial list of U.S. sports fields with Latitude 36.


Latitude 36 Characteristics (Sod Solutions)

Aesthetics

  • Uses: Golf, commercial, sports, parks, residential
  • Color: Dark green
  • Blade width: 1.67 mm
  • Feel: Soft
  • Color retention: Very good
  • Spring green-up: Very good

Climate

  • Heat: Excellent
  • Cold: Excellent
  • Shade: Good
  • Drought: Excellent
  • Salt: Very Good

Functions

  • Soils: Sandy, clay
  • Growth: Rhizomes/Stolons
  • Wear: Excellent
  • Injury recovery: Excellent
  • Insect resistance: Very good
  • Disease resistance: Very good

Care

  • Recommended mowers: Standard Rotary/Reel
  • Recommended mowing height: 0.5-1.5 inches
  • Weed control: Very good

Fertilizing Latitude 36

Graff’s Turf, a 440-acre turf farm in Fort Morgan, Colorado, generally recommends the following in terms of fertilization for Latitude 36: “A fertilizer in the spring with a 1-0-1 (Nitrogen–Phosphorus– Potassium) ratio, like a 15-0-15, and in the fall a fertilizer with a 1-0-2 ratio, like an 8-0-16. These are generic recommendations that are meant to work for a wide area, from California to Florida.”


Roberto Gurgel: How He Works with Field Managers

Part of Roberto Gurgel’s job as Sod Solutions’ director of research is interacting with field managers across the country. Gurgel says that field managers are an integral part in the process of developing and establishing new turfgrass varieties. “I visit universities to understand what they’re doing and bring in field managers who we have relationships with to check those materials, while they’re still being tested,” Gurgel explains. “We want to hear from field managers and ask what they think about various materials. There’s been several that are very active in saying, ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that one.’ That’s very important for not only us, but the [turfgrass] breeder as well. We hear things from field managers that we may not have been necessarily thinking about. Field managers are very, very important to the process. We urge them to visit sites of turfgrass trials and get involved with NTEP testing and check out what’s coming up and provide input for future selections of turfgrass varieties.”