Holey Moly: How the Dreaded Aeration Process Benefits the Greens at your Club

by Jim Pavonetti, CGCS, Fairview Country Club

Superintendents often hear comments like, “The greens were just perfect last week! Why did you have to aerate them now?” Or questions like, “Can we just skip greens aeration this season? The golf season is short enough already!”

To protect the long-term health and sustainability of the putting greens, aeration must be performed.

What does the core aeration process do besides disrupt play, and make the greens bumpy and slow?

Aeration relieves compaction

The putting surface becomes compacted over time from foot traffic and maintenance equipment traffic such as sprayers, mowers, sand top-dressers, and rollers. This can affect rooting and drainage. The aeration process promotes root growth by allowing oxygen to move down into the root zone.

Manages thatch and organic matter levels in the root zone

Organic matter is constantly being produced in the root zone in all turf, and excess organic matter is one of the most common reasons that putting greens fail.  The long-term success of a putting surface depends on sand being the primary root-zone material because of its porosity. Sand provides pore space for air exchange and sand drains well.

Organic matter can be detrimental to turf, especially on putting surfaces. Organic matter holds moisture for extended periods of time, which can lead to roots dying back and root diseases such as summer patch and root pythium. Excessive organic matter can also make the putting surfaces spongy and soft.  During the aeration process, superintendents will fill the aeration holes with sand to dilute the organic matter content in the root zone. The sand allows for greater water percolation and firm putting surfaces.

Allows superintendents to plant better varieties of grass without further disruption

Many superintendents in the Tri-State Area are managing poa annua greens which can have a lot of problems surviving exceptionally harsh winters and harsh summers. Aeration is a great opportunity to over seed poa greens with creeping bentgrass and also allows superintendents to apply special soil fertilizer components such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium directly into the soil profile. Items such as these can be worked right into the aeration holes with the sand topdressing.

How long will it take for the greens to be rolling fast and true again?

Superintendents will apply fertilizer to the greens either right before or right after aeration to accelerate the healing process and get the greens back to top playing conditions as soon as possible.

With optimum soil temperatures and optimum weather conditions, it typically takes about five days for the greens to become somewhat playable, and approximately two to three weeks for everything to heal and smooth out back to good rolling speeds.

Is two weeks of slower and/or bumpy greens better than the alternative of the greens failing during a member/guest or holiday weekend? Players should remember that putting surfaces are living organisms that require certain maintenance tasks to be performed occasionally in order to survive the long summers and winters in the Tri-State Area.