I wanted to update everyone on the conditions of the golf course, specifically this Spring’s aerification. There has been a lot of talk regarding our recovery and why it’s taken so long to get the greens back to normal condition. In this post I’ll discuss grass types, the process of tine selection, amounts of sand, weather events, and recovery on all of our playing surfaces. All of the topics discussed will explain our process and the slower recovery. There are a lot of details, so please bear with me!
Aerification took place May 16th and 17th this year. As you all know, the golf course was in fantastic shape prior to aerification. A common question that is asked is why do we aerify when they are in such great shape. The process of aerification, specifically if you are introducing sand into the canopy, is very aggressive, disruptive and violent in nature. Our greens, tees and fairways are composed of Bentgrass and Poa Annua. As I’ve mentioned before, our management practices attempt to promote the Bentgrass. And for all of the reasons I’ve discussed before, i.e., winter survivability, firmer playing surfaces, needing less inputs (water, fertility, fungicides, etc), Bentgrass is a much stronger grass and is much less influenced by environmental conditions. All reasons we try to promote the Bentgrass and maybe event more so, discouraging the Poa Annua from thriving.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012 we had winter kill on various parts of our putting greens, fairways and tee boxes. If you can remember, there were temporary greens, roped off areas of fairways and a lot of new grass being grown in. When the greens died, we slitseeded into the dead turf canopy. The areas of death were too large to sod. As that new turf grew up, what happened to the dead turf? It was basically buried in the profile with sand. As it gets buried, the dead layer of old turf starts to decompose. As we topdress greens and aerify, we bury it deeper and attempt to poke holes through the layer so gas exchange can occur and moisture can penetrate into the ground. The dead layer acts as a sponge and we want to poke as many holes as possible. Over the years, we have changed our ways of fertilizing the greens, keeping them much leaner so they produce less thatch. The benefit of this is not only the promotion of Bentgrass but also firmer surfaces. It’s also very important to note that when we do aerify, we have been using smaller tines. The benefit is quicker healing and getting your greens back to normal faster. Over the past several years we’ve buried that dead layer (as it’s still there) down several inches under sand. I made the decision this Spring that I needed to poke a larger hole in the dead layer because our results from soil testing was showing that our percolation rates were starting to slow down, not speed up. Percolation rates are how long it takes water to travel downward through the profile. As the dead layer gets lower in the profile, it becomes harder to manage, eventually it gets too far down to where you cannot reach it unless you become very aggressive. I’ve experienced this at previous golf courses I’ve worked at where the dead layer becomes too far buried and acts as a sponge. Roots struggle to penetrate it, water struggles to drain through it and it promotes an environment for Poa Annua to survive. So this Spring I made the decision to make a larger than normal hole to manage the situation based on scientific numbers from a soil laboratory. This decision was mine and based off my experience with managing turf and previous experience. Did we not manage it aggressively enough to begin with? Not necessarily. I manage aerification based on scientific numbers, i.e. percentage of organic matter in the profile and percolation rates.
Amount of Sand
As you noticed, there seemed to be more sand on certain greens than others post aerification. This was by design. Again, based off scientific numbers from the laboratory, firmness and the lack of a consistent amount of sand in the profile from green to green. Certain areas of our greens have received more sand at aerification based on how the sand was drug into the profile. Different pieces of equipment were used over the past 40+ years to drag the sand in. It was not intentional but that old equipment, coupled with not paying close enough attention to the profile created some inconsistencies in depths of sand in the greens. We attempted to add a little more sand where it was needed to get consistency overall.
Again we aerified May 16 and 17th. On Sunday May 15th, we had significant frost. 31 degrees and a fairly good white out to all playing surfaces. What’s the significance of frost? Going back to the Poa Annua, it is greatly affected by environmental conditions. On Tuesday night, May 17th, it got down to 33 degrees and there was again frost. Not as severe as the first frost but still an event that affected the Poa Annua. What affect? The Poa Annua stopped growing. It becomes stunted by the frost and the Bentgrass wasn’t as affected. Now you couple that with the process of aerification and the Poa is very stunted. It needs to be healthy to start with to withstand the process because of the wounding of dragging sand in. After aerification, we didn’t get warm enough temperatures to really promote bring the turf out of its status to recover. Absolute terrible timing. If I could predict the weather, I wouldn’t be a golf course superintendent. Are there things we would have done differently if we knew we were guaranteed frost and cooler weather after? Absolutely. What we do is based on weather averages. It’s not Xs and Os. Its managing something that is living, evolving and susceptible to what the weather provides. Could we have pushed off aerification to the following week? With the golf event schedule set and closing dates set, it would be difficult. Again, everything would have gone to plan if the weather would have warmed up. It did not, I learned some things and will adjust in the future as much as feasible. There has been a lot of talk about other clubs in town already being healed much faster than MHCC. I do what is best for our golf course as do other Superintendents for their courses. They use tine sizes, depths, amounts of sand based off what their needs and goals are. No two clubs are alike and are not managed the same. Again, its not Xs and Os, each golf course is different and each green on the course is different. Our timing was bad compared to those clubs that aerified the week after. It’s unfortunate but we have done everything in our ability to get them back to where they are now. No one is a bigger critic on the conditions of the course than me. I take a lot of pride in our staff’s hard work and the fact that we are known around town for great greens and playing conditions. They are that we because we don’t cut corners with our agronomic practices. If we took short cuts, we would see different results. I don’t enjoy aerification any more than the next person but it is the necessary evil that in return gives us the results we are all proud of. But I also feel more terrible than anyone when things don’t go to plan as a lot of energy and planning goes into making sure things happen correctly and efficiently.
We learn from what’s happened, although we cannot control the weather. We plan for recent weather trends and look again at our golf schedule in the off season. We move forward knowing that we have done the right thing with managing the underlying soil profile like it should be and know that we are trying to prevent future major issues that could affect playing conditions on a daily basis.
As always, if you have questions regarding your golf course, contact me at any time