COURSE CARE
Too Easy To Take For Granted October 27, 2014 By Jim Skorulski

Placing a small sample of your topdressing sand next to a ruler on a scanner can give you some great insight into what your sand looks like. This sample looks like it may contain too high a percentage of fine particles and is worth submitting to an accredited lab for analysis.

What can be applied to every playing surface to help protect turfgrass plants, improve drainage, potentially reduce disease and improve playing quality? The answer is sand topdressing. Sand topdressing continues to be one of the most important cultural practices in golf course management. Topdressing involves applying a uniform layer of sand – or a mixture of sand and organic matter – over turf surfaces. The sand applications help modify soils, dilute organic matter, smooth surfaces and protect turfgrass plants from wear, mowing injury and wind desiccation. Light and frequent topdressing promotes surface uniformity, smoother and faster ball roll, and firmer surfaces that will accommodate a well hit shot.

Turf managers understand the importance of topdressing. The objective of light, frequent topdressing is to match the amount of sand being applied to the growth rate of the turf. Therefore, rates and timing of topdressing applications should be adjusted as turf growth varies throughout the season. Typically, light topdressing used on greens will apply approximately 0.005 to 0.020 inch of sand to the putting surface, or 0.5 to 2.0 cubic feet per 1,000 square feet. Heavier applications of sand are common when paired with cultivation practices or sometimes late in the season when golf courses are closed. Turf managers with limited staff and budgets or busy golf calendars have difficulty keeping up with a regular topdressing program. Furthermore, many golfers do not fully understand the benefits provided by topdressing and find it annoying. However, it is important to understand that topdressing has immediate and cumulative effects that help produce desirable playing conditions.

The quality of sand used in a topdressing program is critical, because sand is the building block – or foundation – of the playing surface. Poor-quality sand or sand that varies widely from materials used previously can have a disastrous impact on soil physical properties. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the sand selected for topdressing to make sure it meets recommendations for particle size and other physical characteristics. Good sand suppliers understand the value of physical testing for producing a high-quality product, but it is important for the end user to have their sand tested regularly as well. Sands mined out of a pit can and do vary, so annually testing a sample from a sand pile makes sense. A simple particle-size test will make sure that the sand delivered to your site matches, or falls very close to, specifications promised by the supplier. The cost of a particle-size analysis is a small price to pay to protect your number one asset. Click here for a list of Accredited Physical Soil-Testing Laboratories. The practice of sand topdressing and the specific sand used to topdress are important parts of the overall maintenance program that cannot be taken for granted.

Managers are, or soon will be, making the last topdressing applications of the season. This is a good time to evaluate this season’s topdressing program and begin planning for next year. Consider having an undisturbed soil core from a green evaluated by an accredited physical soil-testing laboratory if you have not yet done so. The resulting data will help in planning next season’s topdressing and cultivation practices and will be useful for evaluating the success of your program. And of course, plan to get that sand tested.

Source: Jim Skorulski (jskorulski@usga.org)

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