COURSE CARE
Answers About Aeration September 4, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By USGA Green Section Staff

No golfer likes to see thousands of holes punched into their greens, but temporary disruption is a fair trade for future playing conditions.

Putting green aeration is never popular. Understandably, golf course superintendents and USGA agronomists field many questions about aeration each year. Here are helpful answers to some of the most common questions about this necessary practice.

Why do greens have to be aerated in the first place?

Aeration provides a host of benefits for our hard-working putting surfaces. It helps to relieve the compaction that comes with intense golfer and maintenance traffic. Aeration also improves air and water movement through the soil, which yields healthier grass and more consistent playing conditions. Breaking up the layer of organic material that accumulates just below the putting surface – commonly referred to as thatch – is another important benefit. The end result is firmer, smoother and healthier greens.

Removing small cores of soil reduces the amount of thatch in greens and improves drainage.

 

Why do we always aerate when the greens are perfect?

It can be frustrating to see thousands of holes punched into perfectly good greens, but there are good reasons why aeration usually occurs when greens are at their best. Aeration is stressful for putting green turf. The more favorable the growing conditions are, the quicker the greens will recover. While aerating very late or very early in the year might seem less disruptive to the golf schedule, the longer recovery time and risk of added turf damage can actually lead to more disruption. Aeration timing may also depend on seasonal changes in staffing. Performing aeration when the staff is at full strength helps expedite the process and subsequent recovery, which means normal playing conditions return sooner.

USGA Video: “Fore the Golfer: Golf Course Aeration – The W(hole) Story”

How long is it going to take before the greens are back to normal?

The short answer is that it depends. Recovery time varies based on the grass species, size of aeration holes, turf health and the weather. A quick recovery is everyone's preference, so superintendents take various steps to ensure the fastest possible turnaround. They choose a time for aeration when putting greens are typically healthy and growing well so they can recover more easily. Superintendents also typically fertilize the greens before or during aeration so that the grass grows rapidly through the topdressing sand and fills the gaps created by aeration.

Why can't we skip it?

Skipping aeration "just this once" may seem appealing when the weather is good and golf season is in full swing, but missing aeration events can allow unseen problems to develop, causing greater disruption in the future. If the thatch layer is allowed to build without periodically being broken up and diluted with sand, it can turn into a dense sponge that traps water near the surface. This leads to soft, bumpy playing conditions and greens that are increasingly vulnerable to damage from disease and traffic. Staying on top of aeration requirements means a less-disruptive aeration schedule and less risk of poor playing conditions.

Without aeration, a dense thatch layer can accumulate below the putting surface. Excessive thatch can make greens vulnerable to damage.

 

Putting green aeration can be a painful process for golfers and superintendents alike, but the benefits have been proven by scientific research and decades of experience. A week or two of bumpy conditions can be aggravating when the weather is perfect, but it’s a fair trade for healthy greens and great playing conditions in the months and years to come.