This past week’s aerification was no fun. The record heat index, did a toll on not only the staff, but on the turf as well. We altered our normal plan to minimize the most dangerous aspect of the process, which is the dragging of topdressing sand, to minimize dragging during the peak hot hours of the day.
Monday morning was cool, and cloudy, which you think would have been a positive. We were able to apply several hundred tons of sand, which was great, but none of it was drying in succession with us applying it. When the sun did finally come out, all of the sand became dry, and HOT, all at once. This created a frantic race to drag sand as quick as possible with the limited equipment we have. It became so hot that it was dangerous for us to drag the sand fully into the turf canopies, so irrigation was applied, and we’d have to come back to “touch up” areas later. By Monday at 10:00pm, we had completely finished greens and most approaches, as well as a few fairways.
Justin applying sand, Franco aerifying right behind him Monday
On Tuesday morning at 5:00am, it was already 80 degrees F, the warmest night of the year. But a dew had formed because of the tropical dew points, slowing the drying process. We applied sand to surfaces until about noon, then used all labor to get the sand brushed, blown, and water applied directly behind the process. The pace of progress was slow, but steady, because of the dangerous heat it posed on our staff. By Tuesday night at 9:00pm, we had finished all tees, and 14 fairways. It was so hot on Tuesday that completed areas of the golf course needed to be cooled down by irrigation throughout the day.
The Biarritz and back surround couldn’t be finished before water had to be applied
Wednesday was spent going back to finish working in sand in areas not completely brushed in, as well as the remaining fairways. We resorted to using backpack blowers to work the sand, as brushing was too dangerous, as the turf had already been pushed to its brink. Luckily the equipment held up in that heat. Running any engine that’s air-cooled, and even liquid cooled, is vulnerable to overheating in that kind of heat. We operated equipment well past its hydraulic heat ratings. Having our Equipment Managers, Jim and Evan, maintaining our equipment fleet at the highest level preventatively, was absolutely key in this process. By Wednesday night at 9:00pm, we had finished the entire golf course. 650 tons of sand was incorporated into the fairways, tees, and approaches. 100 tons was incorporated into the greens, and green surrounds. That’s 30 semi-loads of sand.
The entire staff working the sand with backpack blowers to minimize damage to the turf
If we had predominately Poa Annua surfaces, we wouldn’t have went through with the aerification process. If we did, you wouldn’t have much grass left to play on. But we do have some Poa, especially in high traffic areas of greens, green expansion sodded areas, approaches, and a few tees. You’ll notice that those areas are very browned out, and clinging to life. Losing some of these biotypes is an acceptable concession. We don’t want them anyway, they’re the weakest link in our genetically make-up of our turf sward. But even Bentgrass isn’t bullet proof, specifically the 100 year-old Bentgrasses that are predominantly in the middle of fairways. Their genetics aren’t tolerant of stresses that were experienced, and their response is to turn almost black from the bruising. They will bounce back with the cool temperatures, specifically the night time temps that will bolster recovery.
100-year old Bentgrasses showing effects of bruising and high temperatures
After aerfication is over, we cannot mow surfaces for ~1 week, as we need the turf to grow through the sand that was applied. Mowing through sand is damaging, because the mower reels/bedknives will be dulled instantly, injuring the turf even more from the “ripping,” and we want a nice layer of sand on the surfaces to dilute the thatch accumulation that naturally occurs as a yield of normal growth. Because of the extreme heat, the plants will have to initially recover psyhiosologically before growth will occur, slowing the healing process. Our typical program resorts to rolling, post-aerification, instead of mowing. Rolling removes the rutting that occurs during the process of driving over open holes to drag in sand. Greens, Tees, Approaches, and Fairways are rolled, depending on their rutting. Rolling also helps close up the holes that are created, speeding recovery. However, a worst case scenario happened Friday morning with our Greens roller. A seal in a hydraulic motor on the roller gave way, dumping hydraulic oil onto the second green. These kinds of mechanical breaks cannot be seen preventatively, they just happen. The oil is damaging to the turf, as the oil is extremely hot. How extensive the damage is unknown, we’ll have to wait to evaluate over the next week. This will dictate what kind of corrective measures will be taken, from sod cutting out the damage, to just spiking the turf surfaces, and seeding Bentgrass seed into it, with a light topdress over the top.
Overall, we did extremely well, much better than I thought last Sunday night looking at the forecast. The staff were the real hero’s, literally a herculean effort to tackle what normally is the hardest 3 days of the year, in the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced in my years of aerifying turf. Turf casualties was expected, and we faired very well, losing some turf that is basically embraced. We move on stronger.
I’ll keep everyone posted on the plan for two green, once a decision is made.