Superior Turf in Tifton, Georgia has grown from 75 acres and three employees in 2002 to 25 employees and nearly 700 acres of production throughout south Georgia, making it one of the largest producers of turfgrass in the state. Owner Drew Veazey explains that the past two decades of work have been busy.
Veazey started working in the turf business when he was just 15 years old. He worked for Ray Jensen with Tifton Turf in Georgia before venturing into the golf industry. He traveled and built golf courses throughout the Southeast, including venues in Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, Pinehurst and Alabama. Veazey went to college at Lake City Community College in Florida, which is where many turf and golf professionals learned the business.
One of the first courses Veazey worked on was at Treyburn Country Club in Durham, North Carolina, while working for golf course architect Mike Riley from Atlanta. He also worked with Bill Bergin and Rees Jones and eventually held an internship under Randy Waldrum at the Golf Club of Georgia in Atlanta in 1994. Veazey says that the coolest golf course he helped build during that time was the Auburn University Club in Alabama. The Auburn project motivated Veazey to switch from golf construction to sod farming full-time.
“After that, I entered into the turf business a little bit and eventually went out on my own in 2002 when I started Superior Turf,” Veazey says. Though he’d been a farming kid since his parents grew cotton and peanuts in Georgia, he was the first family member to work in the turfgrass industry. “I had built my contact list up of superintendents and architects, and I’d had a couple of people ask me if I’d ever thought about getting into the turf business. The turf business was booming and doing pretty well. My family came from a background in farming and my brother was in the golf course construction business at the time.”
Veazey felt inclined to bring a better product to the market and started by growing Certified 419 Bermuda. He founded his company around the same time the golf industry started demanding Georgia Certified sod.
Superior Turf supplied plenty of Latitude 36 Bermudagrass to the Robert Trent Jones Trail courses in Alabama. They also supplied a big job at the Grand Hotel in Mobile, Alabama, last year, and were involved with supplying Latitude 36 for the acclaimed McLemore Club in north Georgia. The company has sent sod overseas to Egypt, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Superior Turf grows several turfgrass varieties, including CitraBlue St. Augustine, EMPIRE Zoysia, Innovation Zoysiagrass, Latitude 36 Bermudagrass and NorthBridge Bermudagrass. EMPIRE was the first proprietary grass Veazey started growing about eight years ago. Superior also grows Emerald Zoysia, Meyer Zoysia, Certified 419 Bermuda, common centipede, Santee Centipede, fescue in the fall, Floratam St. Augustine and TifTuf Bermuda.
Veazey says they cut anywhere between 10 to 17 loads of sod per day on weekdays. He estimates 75 percent of their sales are for athletic fields and the landscape market, with the other 25 percent for golf courses.
Superior Turf has a store near Dawsonville, Georgia, called Superior Turf Atlanta Outlet where they drop sod and sell to homeowners. They also sell several pallets at a time to landscapers from the outlet. Like most sod farms in the area, Superior Turf ships turfgrass into Atlanta every night. They have two employees at the outlet store, one is a sales professional and the other helps with deliveries.
Industry changes and new varieties
Veazey says there are a few notable changes in the sod industry over the past 20 years. “I think the demand for certified grass is a must and Georgia has a very good certification program. The golf industry has changed to so many different varieties now. It’s hard to keep up with the various changes from one year to the next.”
He adds the universities develop so many new turfgrass varieties that it can be hard for sod farmers to keep up with sometimes. He currently has three new varieties sitting on his desk.
“We look at what the varieties are set up for,” he says. “Are they set up as homeowner varieties or golf course varieties? We decide on whatever we feel like meets our demand. Are these good varieties to send overseas and do they have drought tolerance? That’s a big thing when we ship grass overseas since most of it is for resorts or places on the ocean where they have brackish water so those are the varieties that we look at,” he said.
Veazey closely listens to the needs of the golf industry and superintendents. Bermudagrasses that can withstand high traffic with good shade tolerance are in high demand.
Automated sod cutters are also changing the industry. “We can cut different size pallets and different shapes of grass; from slabs and super slabs to mini rolls and big rolls,” he says. “That’s definitely changed and we can get more out the door with less help than we used to.”
Superior Turf also supplies washed sprigs for turfgrass installations. Veazey has a top-quality sod washing mechanism set up at the farm.
Superior Turf has been open to trialing new turfgrass varieties in their early stages. Veazey says the new turfgrass varieties are focused on water conservation aspects. “We have a chance to test them and see how drought tolerant they really are. I think we’ve saved water on the farm. These new varieties grow slower, so we can mow less, have fewer fertilizer requirements and water less.
“We have to try new varieties or we can’t keep up with the changing aspects of staying up with the golf industry,” he adds. “Usually, these new varieties are good for about 10 years and then we move on to something else. We have to stay on the cutting edge of trying new stuff, that’s just a part of what we do in the industry.”
Cecilia Brown is the media and content manager for Sod Solutions.