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Why aerify?

Posted Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 01:49 pm GMT -5 in Golf

Vince Dodge, the superintendent at The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, wrote about aerification in this month’s Wilderness email. I thought it was one of the best explanations I’ve seen of this pet peeve of many golfers. Read his full post after the jump.

From a golf course maintenance standpoint, May is usually one of the busiest months of the year for the crew. The flush of growth that accompanies spring makes mowing an ongoing chore as does the need to aerify greens. The following article may be useful in educating you in just what the purpose of aerification is:

Why aerify?

It’s a perfect, sunny morning and you’ve just reached the first green in regulation. You feel great and you know you’re within birdie range. Then, you see them, those little holes in the green. Arrrgh! They’ve just aerified the course, and it’s going to ruin your round, right?

Well, maybe not. Consider the fact that PGA Tour legend Tom Watson shot a sizzling record 58 at his then-home course, Kansas City Country Club, just days after the greens had been aerified.

Consider also that aerification is merely a short-term disruption that has long-term benefits for the course. When you see them, remember that without those little holes, the greens would eventually die.

Like so many things, the quality of a good putting green is more than skin deep. In fact, the condition of a green has a lot to do with what goes on below the surface. In order to keep grass growing at 3/16-inch you have to have deep, healthy roots. Good roots demand oxygen. In good soil, they get the oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles.

Over time, the traffic from golfers’ feet (as well as heavy mowing equipment) tends to compact the soil under the putting green – particularly when the soil contains a lot of clay. When soil becomes compacted, the air pockets on which the roots depend are crushed, and the roots are essentially left gasping for air. Without oxygen, the grass plants will wither and die.

Aerification is a mechanical process that creates more air space in the soil and promotes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy. In most cases, it’s done by removing 1/2-inch cores (those plugs you sometimes see near a green or in fairways). The spaces are then filled with sand “topdressing” that helps the soil retain air space and makes it easier for roots to grow downward.

Other aerification techniques use machines with “tines” or knives that simply poke holes through the soil profile. A newer technique even uses ultra high-pressure water that’s injected through the soil profile to create small holes that relieve some compaction but heal quickly.

The bottom line is that aerification is a necessary practice. But before you curse the superintendent for ruining your day, just think of Tom Watson.

On the subject of aerification, we were blessed with ideal conditions for the process on May 14th and 15th and as a result we were able to perform the task thoroughly. Most holes were filled and the amount of organic matter that we removed was substantial. The steps that we perform to aerify are as follows:

  • Aerify greens with one half inch tines
  • Remove cores by hand with snow shovels
  • Blow off any remaining debris with backpack blowers
  • Water greens heavily
  • Roll greens twice
  • Topdress greens with sand
  • Drag in sand with a brush
  • Touch up areas of greens with heavy sand with a large blower
  • Roll greens again
  • Fertilize greens with a balanced fertilizer
  • Water heavily
  • Mow greens the first few times with old greensmowers to minimize damage to our newer mowers
  • Roll heavily in between mowings
  • After about five days, greens are ready to be mowed with our newer, sharper mowers

As of today – less than a week after aerifying – greens are for the most part recovered from the beating. One thing that will be noted is that the greens are slower than usual as a result of the very high fertility we keep on them for the few weeks after aerifying. This is a necessary evil in order to speed recovery. Putting greens should return to their optimal speed of about 9-10 feet on the stimpmeter over the next few weeks.

On the subject of greenspeeds, I would like to point out that we could easily make our greens faster than 10 feet on the stimpmeter – indeed we have done that in the past for serious tournament play. The problem with doing this consistently on our greens is the severe undulations on virtually every green. Very fast speeds would make it very difficult for most players to have an enjoyable round. Three putts or even worse would be a regular occurrence, pace of play would be brutal, the number of pin placements available would be severely reduced, and the golf course would not be as enjoyable to the vast majority.

Thank you all for your business and we hope to see you on the course.

Vince Dodge, CGCS
Golf Course Superintendent

Originally published by DK on May 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

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