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Aerification: The Who, What, When, Where and Why I do What I do

Golf Course Maintenance - Aeration

Aeration Golf Course Maintenance

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I am Iain Sturge, golf course superintendent
I am Iain Sturge, golf course superintendent

It’s everyone’s favorite time of the golf season.


For the Golfer, it can be a nightmare; paying good money only to find out no one told you the course was recently maintained. (Thank Goodness for!)

For the Golf Course Superintendent or Greenkeeper it’s a good thing — relieving compaction, removing thatch, and amending the soil.

Perfect! Well, only if you are a golf green.

Like topdressing, Aerification is a necessary evil to maintain a healthy green. There are several ways to conduct the process, from using the smallest needle tines to iron spikes 16 inches long by 1-inch diameter. It is sound advice to anyone who has a lawn, sports field, or golf course with a wet spot, dry spot, compacted soil, just about any area that isn’t doing very well, to use aerification as the first and probably the best solution to fix the problem area. With golf greens and other areas around the course, routine aerification is done more as a preventative measure to maintain the health of the greens and other areas.

The Sand Columns from past Aerification
The Sand Columns from past Aerification

While heavily sanded, sometimes bumpy, slow greens after aerification are definitely not a golfers’ dream, but it probably is one of the most important things that my maintenance staff performs. An ideal soil profile should contain 50 % soil, 25% water, and 25% air. A few days after aerification, when the green has healed; returning to a normal surface, the green reaches this ideal proportion. As every day goes by, through normal maintenance practices and foot traffic from golfers, the soil becomes more compacted leaving it harder for water and nutrients to reach the roots. Please remember we are maintaining a living, breathing thing. It’s not static but constantly growing. Maintaining this proportion of soil/water/air allows the grass to be at it’s best, especially with the low height of cuts used when mowing the surface. If aerification is never performed, over time the roots will eventually be choked-out, unable to breathe, and will begin to thin out and die.

The most common technique used to aerify a golf green would be a ½ inch or 5/8 inch hollow core tine on a 2 by 2 pattern, meaning that every 2 inches you have a hole. This would be followed by a heavy application of sand. This sand filled hole allows water to flow freely carrying nutrients down to the roots as needed. One of the biggest benefits would be the reduction of compaction, allowing the roots to penetrate deeper, reducing the summer stress, and increasing the grass’ defense against disease. Like you, the healthier the green is the less prone to disease it is. Another great benefit is the removal of thatch, that spongy feeling layer on the surface of the green that turns a birdie putt into a bogey. This would most commonly be done 2 times a year or 3 times per year as the greens mature. You will find most superintendents will also aerify the greens with a much smaller

The Machine
The Machine

hollow core tine or a small solid spike or needle tine, this is not very disruptive to play and the putting green is returned to normalcy within a few days, this can be done as much as once a month.

The actual process of aerifying a green is not, on its own, very costly, but the closure of the course and loss of customers during the week following has a larger cost impact. This brings us to why when you look on the website, my course, Hidden Valley in Norco, is the only red flag the first week of July. We listened to our customers. We capitalized on a slower time of the year and picked up other courses’ golfers from the typical spring and fall aerification seasons. You may think that’s only one time a year, but I have been known to aerify twice in 2 days. First, with an 8-inch long solid spike, relieving compaction at a much deeper level, allowing my water to carry sodium out of the soil profile. This is followed the next day with a ½ inch core tine 2 by 2. Plus, I like it hot! Sand goes in easier and grass heals faster.

The mess maker.
The mess maker.

Whatever method used, it’s the Greenkeeper’s choice. It’s part of a necessary process to maintain a healthy green. We temper this because we know it is disruptive. We try to make this maintenance period as short as possible. It’s no secret about the work I do. It’s my job to make the impact of maintenance as little as possible. This is where communication to you, our customers, is so important — Thanks to JohnnyGK and Consider this, at the end of the day behind every great golf green there has to be several days of down time where maintenance must be performed; even Augusta National closed for 5-months before the Masters. I am not saying I need to shut down our golf course, what I am saying is if you want great playing conditions certain concessions need to be made to help keep the condition of the golf course superior. One of these concessions, aeration, although disruptive, allow me to produce consistent playing conditions you have come to expect from my golf course.

Some Additional Information about Iain. . . .

Who the hell are you? I am Iain Sturge, golf course superintendent, Hidden Valley Golf (Now at Bear Creek Golf Club, Murrieta- CA)

Just After Sanding
Just After Sanding

Course, Norco, California, 34 year-old tall skinny guy from England. Been working on golf courses for around 25 years, different labor laws there. For those 25 years I have been lucky enough to work on some prestigious golf courses, including, Woburn Golf & Country Club, the host of the British Masters and the Ladies British Open, and happy to be part of the early stages of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, fantastic golf course to be playing every afternoon.

Educated at the Oakland Agricultural School in North London with pig farmers and horse breeders, which also covered turf horticulture. Moved to the big old U S of A, at 22 years-old, after 8 years, 6 states and a hell of a photo collection I have decided to call Southern California home.

After spending many a morning logging into the website and finding it amusing, reading peoples variety of opinions about their golf experiences based on course conditions. I will not lie to you, going to work on a Sunday morning, after no sex the night before, after spilling coffee down my white shirt, pulling up to the gate realizing my keys are still in the kitchen, then finally making it into the office with my coffee stained shirt, to see complaints about common maintenance practices, makes me fall off my trolley. So as my course is in Norco, Horsetown, USA, I decided to get off my high horse and if you can’t beat them join them — I volunteered to write a few columns on the site, just explaining why superintendents do what they need to do.

It is my hope a little knowledge will go a long way for many of you to understand what I do to make your golf experience enjoyable and memorable. Because let’s face it, any day is a good day if you’re playing golf.

Keywords:  Golf Course Maintenance, Aeration, Golf Maintenance Schedule, Consistent Product

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