Aeration has many benefits for turf health and playability, but it is disruptive to the playing surface. For this reason, aeration is one of the most controversial maintenance practices conducted on golf courses. Following the pandemic, golf has seen a surge in participation that has led some courses to either stop aerating or reduce the amount of aeration that is typically performed. While this may work without any visible consequences for a year or two, eventually the deferred maintenance will catch up and wreak havoc on turf health and playing conditions. Here are four signs that aeration intensity likely needs to be increased at your facility.
Exceptionally soft conditions: Aeration’s primary function is to reduce organic matter (OM) near the surface. Organic matter is inherently soft and increases moisture retention, making it difficult to provide firm conditions. Soft turf can result in deep ball marks, footprints that disrupt smoothness, or scalping with mowing equipment. Less aeration makes it easier for OM to accumulate to problematic levels.
Shallow rooting: A dense layer of OM near the surface will hold moisture and nutrients tightly, negatively affecting the downward movement of water and roots. This is primarily a turf health concern but it can become a playability issue when greens need to be watered more frequently. Deeper roots can access water deeper in the profile, requiring less-frequent irrigation.
Increased disease pressure: Some of the most common turf diseases thrive in moist environments. A dense OM layer acts like a sponge near the surface, creating an incubation chamber for disease development.
Slow and bumpy putting surfaces: The soft conditions that excessive OM creates can result in bumpy greens that get worse as the day goes on. Furthermore, it is exceptionally difficult and risky to provide fast green speeds when OM levels are extremely high.
Addressing these issues usually takes several years of commitment to a sound agronomic program. There is no “quick fix” for problems that take years to develop. Soil testing for OM content is the best way to guide aeration and topdressing intensity. Take the time to quantify OM content to guide decision-making and then track progress over time to make sure your program is keeping pace and to show stakeholders the benefits that come with aeration.
USGA agronomists work with courses all over the country to evaluate putting green OM content with standardized soil testing and to help superintendents develop comprehensive plans for optimizing turf health and playability. If you would like to discuss any of this information further, feel free to contact your regional USGA agronomist.
Central Region Agronomists:
Zach Nicoludis, regional director – firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Jacobs, agronomist – email@example.com
Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service
Contact the Green Section Staff