July 11, 2012

Fast And Firm

Here is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the golf business these days.  If anyone watched the US Open last month at the Olympic Club, the USGA knows how to go over the top to produce a fast and firm golf course.  One of the most important things we can do to any part of a golf course to produce firm conditions; green, tee, or fairway, is to topdress frequently with sand.  I would like to know how many thousands of tons of sand a course like the Olympic Club goes through in the year leading up to a US Open....

Unfortunately, our greens at GFCC have received a relatively limited amount of sand for a number of years in the past.  Although we are agressive in the spring and fall with aeration and sand topdressing, it is vital to continue to add more sand throughout the summer in order to keep the dead and dying plant material (otherwise known as thatch) diluted with fresh sand.  Another helpful process is called verticutting, or vertical mowing, which physically removes some of the dead plant material under the surface in order to get the thatch out, and get the sand in.  Verticutting also helps stand the grass up so that is mows tigher as opposed to laying over on the ground.

In an effort to continue to firm the greens in preperation for the state match play tournament next week, we did an agressive verticut of the greens on Monday evening, followed by a moderate sand topdressing on tuesday morning.  The sand was then broomed lightly and watered in order to get it worked into the turf canopy.  After a mowing the next morning and a quick roll, the 25,000 lbs of sand that was applied the day before is barely noticeable.  With the significant amount of organic material that we were able to remove with the verticutting and then filling those spaces with sand, we should see some serious firming and speeding up of the greens come next week....

Andy pulling some junk out of the greens with the verticutter reels.  All the dead plant material that was removed
was blown off the greens prior to topdressing.

An up close view of the surface disruption the verticutter produces

Nothing gets my motor running like a fresh coat of topdressing sand as the sun rises on a new day...
To sum up the importance of sand topdressing, I pulled a few quotes from an article written by Bob Vavrek, the Senior Agronomist for the North Central Region of the USGA Green Section.

"Getting back on track won't be easy, because eliminating thatch is a disruptive process, and the disruption is why unreasonable and uninformed golfers have denied some superintendents the opportunity to manage the greens properly in the first place. It's amazing how many courses have suspended 1/2- to 5/8-inch hollow-tine coring operations in favor of less-disruptive cultivation, such as solid deep-tine or 1/4-inch hollow-tine coring.

Addressing this problem may be as simple as adjusting modern equipment to apply more sand per application. And, yes, hollow-tine core cultivation needs to be an integral part of the greens maintenance program every year.

Old greens have been pushed to their limits and beyond to provide golfers firm, fast, smooth greens for day-to-day play. Cut back on topdressing and coring operations and you will have soft, wet, bumpy greens. We are all fooling ourselves if we think we can continue to accumulate thatch on greens and still produce a high-quality putting surface."

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