For most, there are three primary characteristics that constitute a quality putting surface: (1) a smooth surface, (2) a firm surface and (3) healthy turf. There is no question that adequate sunlight, water and nutrients are essential to provide healthy turf, but what contributes to the more subjective aspects of smoothness and firmness? These two critical components are tied together by one common link – high quality topdressing sand. Since the time of Old Tom Morris, sand topdressing has been the great equalizer, helping to dilute organic material and create smooth, firm surfaces. These benefits are discussed in detail in the article, “Managing Organic Matter in Putting Greens” and the USGA Collection, “Managing Soil Organic Matter.” Applying sand to the putting greens is often a source of frustration for some players, but a quick look at how putting greens would perform without sand topdressing reveals its importance.
Putting greens are comprised of different types of grasses but they all have one common trait – they must be healthy and consistently growing to recover from the heavy traffic associated with the game of golf. However, balancing turf recovery with playability requires careful management. As grass grows it produces organic material such as roots, shoots and lateral stems. If this organic material is not diluted by sand topdressing it can accumulate and act like a sponge, holding excess water near the surface. If excessive organic material accumulates, putting green health and playability will decline. Walking across a soft, saturated putting green can leave footprints that impact surface smoothness, and golf balls landing on soft putting greens will create deep ball marks. Unless it is addressed, this sponge effect will continue to worsen over time. The solution to these problems is regular applications of topdressing sand.