The Sandman Cometh…And One Can Hardly Tell

By Larry Gilhuly, director, Northwest Region
May 16, 2013

(Left) Power brushing of sand on fairways “fires” sand into the turf canopy to minimize player complaints. (Right) Blowing excess sand off putting green collars minimizes the potential for creating “collar dams,” which can develop slowly over time and adversely impact playability and turf performance.

In the last decade a major shift has occurred in the Pacific Northwest with regards to aeration programs on greens, approaches, tees and fairways. These necessary programs are still completed with the same frequency and methods; however, it has become common for them all to be completed at once with extended course closure added to the equation. Let’s look at a golf facility that recently completed this operation and two techniques they used to address two of the major negatives associated with sand applications.

Capilano Golf and Country Club is routinely listed as one of the top facilities in Canada. Located in West Vancouver, British Columbia, this Stanley Thompson-designed gem receives considerable annual rainfall (just under 100 inches), thus aeration and topdressing requires a certain amount of luck along with timing and a very concentrated effort to minimize the impact sand has on playing conditions. Rather than closing the course for a day or two, Capilano G&CC (and many other golf facilities in the Pacific Northwest) has expanded course closure to four or five days so that aeration and topdressing of all primary playing areas – greens, approaches, collars, tees and fairways – may be completed at the same time. This requires the use of an outside contractor in addition to the maintenance staff. Superintendent Jamie Robb has the course and grounds staff do all of the dragging and other follow-up duties to move topdressing sand into aeration holes and turf canopy.

This is where the two aforementioned techniques should be considered at your golf facility. For those that topdress fairways, there is ample anecdotal evidence that players simply do not like playing on fairways that have received heavy sand applications. The key to minimizing negative reaction to this program is having enough time to move sand into the turf canopy (this is where four to five days of closure is a major positive) and to do it more aggressively. While many golf facilities use the standard “passive” method of dragging fairway sand with a metal mat or brush, Mr. Robb uses this and combines it with a reverse rotation brush that drives sand into the turf canopy. This is completed at least twice before opening the course. It is always best if the sand is dry when brushing or dragging of any kind is performed but this type of power brushing can still be effective when there is some moisture near the surface.

The second method of sand movement into the turf canopy is even more critical as it has a major impact on playing conditions and water movement. “Collar dams” are created over time as sand topdressing applied to greens accumulates in collars as a result of circular dragging motions commonly used to move sand into the turf canopy. Instead of being worked into the green, some of the sand slowly accumulates in higher cut turf in the collars. The result is a very slow building up of the collar next to the green that can severely impact surface drainage by not allowing water to flow off the green. While this can cause major issues with ice damage in colder climates, the real negative associated with collar dams is how the ball reacts when landing on the collar. A severe upslope is often created on the outer portion of the collar while similar downslopes can be created on the collar next to the green. Based on the type of trajectory of the shot, the ball can stop short of the green or skip across the green. While resodding or severe material removal provides a fast answer (see Strip Em Bare), another way to minimize this issue is keeping up with it at the time of sand application. Mr. Robb has the staff use backpack blowers to remove extra sand from the collar so that it does not accumulate. Mr. Robb has noted less buildup of sand in collars, and the positive results were noted during a recent TAS visit in early May.

While the sandman may cometh to Capilano G&CC, the players can hardly tell. It is hoped that the two techniques discussed in this regional update will benefit your golf facility.

Source: Larry Gilhuly (

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