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Topdressing Greens — A Greenkeeper’s Viewpoint

Golf Course Maintenance - Topdressing Greens

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Golf Course Maintenance:  Topdressing Greens and Why

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

Why are you putting sand on the greens?
You’ve made them slow and bumpy!

Stop!

Really?

The practice of spreading sand on the greens — Topdressing — has been part of golf maintenance for ages. With so many benefits to the putting surface and overall health of the green, topdressing is truly a necessary evil for all. Trust me, do you think I would spend thousands of dollars a year to upset my paying customers; ruining the blades of my mowers for sadistic pleasure? No. Simply put, if you want greens to putt like glass, use what glass is made of — SAND!!!!!

The practice of working sand into the top layer of the green has benefits for the player as well as the superintendent. The

To properly topdress a green you need to work the sand into the greens; spread it around.
To properly topdress a green you need to work the sand into the greens; spread it around.

benefit to the player is obvious. Topdressing gives a smoother, firmer surface that will receive shots better, provided you can actually hit the green from yardage. For the superintendent we like smooth greens (we also play golf.) Seriously though a superintendent is concerned mainly with the dilution of thatch, the modification of soil structure to the top layers of the green, and to stop the greens from being scalped by the mower during the summer months. A side benefit, I am currently using sand to stop rabbits from chewing my greens. Simply put, the quickest way to achieve slow, bumpy greens is to STOP applying sand.

There are many different things to take into account before you put any sand on the greens. First, you should consider what sand or sand/soil mix was used during construction of the green. Matching particle size, shape, and organic contents is important to stop a layering effect in the green. Layering can prevent the movement of air, water, and nutrients through the soil profile leading to a black anaerobic layer. Second, you need to consider what you are trying to achieve by topdressing. If you

have an older green, heavy topdressing may be required to achieve a smoother more playable surface. On the other hand, if you have a new USGA spec green you will only need light, frequent topdressing through the growing seasons, mainly spring and fall. When growth of the plant slows during summer and winter it is not necessary to apply as much sand as the plant is not

Topdressing a green. It's necessary!
Topdressing a green. It’s necessary!

growing as much. The more your plant is growing the more topdressing is needed to keep thatch from accumulating beyond a manageable point. Topdressing is only one of several practices used to achieve the desired surface that golf is known for, others include verticutting, grooming, and of course aerification. We can touch on these on a later day.

Although you may think sand is sand, go the beach, it’s gotta be cheap there is tons of it. With the cost of the sand and trucking, a 25 ton load being delivered to the course can be anywhere from $1200-$1800 depending on the quality of sand and distance from the pit.

Next time you are at a golf course and you hear that the superintendent has been spreading sand, appreciate the fact that he is trying to make your greens smoother and in turn your game better.

Some Additional Information about Iain. . . .

Who the hell are you? I am Iain Sturge, golf course superintendent, Hidden Valley Golf 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 greenskeeper.org 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.

Keyword:  Golf Course Maintenance, Topdressing, Golf Course Maintenance Schedule.

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2 thoughts on “Topdressing Greens — A Greenkeeper’s Viewpoint

  1. I remember reading this some time ago. Iain Sturge, if you’re still out there, thanks for the information. I appreciate the fact that you have logged onto Greenskeeper.org and volunteered to write something.

    Thanks,

    Kevin

    1. Hey Kevin, thanks for the kind words. It was really great of Iain to give us a little insight into what they do and why. The most important thing I came away with was golf course operators do not knowingly want to sell you bad product. They want us to have a good a time as possible given the circumstances. Thankfully we have a site like Greenskeeper.org so we can navigate temporarily past those golf courses that are under maintenance and enjoy a round of golf.

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