Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arrrgh! Aerification!

This process is a necessary evil that is no more enjoyable for maintenance staff's to perform than it is for golfers to play through. Maybe it's not too bad to play through them if you aren't expecting a terrible experience. 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 1/8-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.

We typically perform our core aeration in the spring and a deep tine aerification during the fall, but this year we utilized a new service called Dry-Ject in the spring to help minimize the disruption to golfers and we will core aerify this fall. Actually we just completed our fall aerification at Morro Bay this week and the process went very smooth and smooth is now the goal! There will be some sand and bumpiness for the rest of this week with the greens starting to fill in by the weekend and by next weekend they will be back to normal.

During our process we fertilize the greens to help speed up the healing process and also inter-seed the greens with bentgrass to help increase our bentgrass populations on the greens. This is a time and labor intensive process that starts around 3 am and finishes up 11-12 hours later only to come back the next day and start over on the other nine holes!

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