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Understanding AERIFICATION and the Integral Role it Plays in Providing Healthy Greens


utumn is a beautiful time of year in Northern Cali-

fornia. We hope that NCGA members are enjoying the nice weather, playing golf and cheering on their favorite Bay Area teams. On the golf course,

September and October find many facilities going through the aerification process. As a golfer, you might view this as an inconvenience. Small holes and sand topdressing can defi- nitely make for an unpredict- able day on the greens. But golfers should understand that aerification is a short-term disruption that produces beneficial, long- term results.

Think of the golf course as

you think of the human body. We all need annual checkups to ensure our long-term health and happiness. Golf courses are no different. Without regular maintenance practices, including aerification, courses are susceptible to turf loss. Aerification achieves three

important objectives: • It relieves soil compaction. • It provides a method

to improve the soil mixture around the highest part of a green’s roots. • It reduces or prevents the

accumulation of excess thatch. The condition of a green is dependent on what goes on below the surface. In order for grass to grow at short mowing heights, it must have deep, healthy roots. Good roots demand oxygen. In good soil, roots get the oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles. Over time, the traffic

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from golfers’ feet (as well as mowing equipment and golf carts) tends to compact the soil under the putting surface—particularly when the soil contains consider- able clay. When soil becomes compacted, the air pockets

Aerification is a mechanical process that creates more air space in the soil and promotes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy.

on which the roots depend are crushed, and the roots are essentially left gasping for air. Without oxygen, the grass plants become weaker and will eventually wither and die. Aerification is a mechani-

cal process that creates more air space in the soil and pro- motes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy. In most cases, it’s done by removing cores (those plugs you sometimes see near a green or in fair- ways) from the compacted soil, allowing for an infusion of air and water that brings a resurgence of growth. The spaces are then filled with sand “topdressing” that helps the soil retain air space and makes it easier for roots to grow downward. Older greens often are

constructed of soils with significant amounts of silt, clay and fine organic particles that are prone to compac- tion. Filling aerification holes with sand improves drainage and resists compaction. The periodic introduction of sand to a green’s top layer can, over time, avoid or postpone ex-

pensive rebuilding or renova- tion of greens. Finally, growing turf adds

a layer of organic matter on the surface. This layer, called thatch, is an accumulation of dead stems, leaves and roots. A little organic matter makes for a resilient green, but too much invites disease and insects. Topdressing with sand can prevent thatch buildup, and aerification is one of the best ways to reduce an existing layer and prevent an excess of thatch from becom- ing established. Additionally, there are

other aerification techniques that address different prob- lems in the various stages of the life of a green. “I have nev- er aerated the greens the same way twice in six years,” states Brian Boyer, GCSAA Class A Superintendent at Cinnabar Hills GC in San Jose. “Our needs are constantly evolv- ing, and a successful aeration

is one that identifies today’s needs. While sustainability of the greens is the primary goal, we also need to consider impact on revenue and the playability of the greens when going through aerification.” So the next time you see

aerified greens, remember that this process is an absolute necessity for maintaining great putting surfaces through- out the year. Just like those dreaded doctor checkups, a little short-term pain produces long-term gain.

The Golf Course Super- intendents Association of Northern California is dedi- cated to serving its members, fostering communication, advancing the profession, im- proving the environment and enriching the quality of golf. For more information, visit It is an affiliated chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

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