Winter Topdressing! Why Not?

By Larry Gilhuly, director, Northwest Region
January 23, 2013

Ball removal on soft greens can create “volcanoed” holes and inconsistent ball roll.

A unique aspect of the Pacific Northwest is the mild weather found on the west side of the Cascade Range in both Oregon and Washington. Turf growth slows, but does not stop in this area until temperatures drop to near freezing and below. For this reason, a trend is occurring in western Oregon and Washington that is worth considering – light winter topdressing of greens and fairways.

Light sand topdressing of greens is conducted for several reasons. There is no question that properly sized sand assists in smoothing and firming the surface. It also helps move water through the profile faster. However, another reason sand is used periodically is to incorporate it into the organic material produced by the turf. Since the turf in western Oregon and Washington turf continues to grow throughout the winter, the production of organic material also continues. Light topdressing with sand should be timed with plant growth. As a result, more superintendents are now making light winter sand topdressing on greens a regular practice. Several superintendents also report applications on fairways to minimize layers of organic material created between the fall and spring heavy sand applications.

With such a mild winter, the occasional application of sand on greens has helped. Very light rates of 1/3 yard per 10,000 square feet or less based on plant growth have helped firm winter playing conditions while smoothing surfaces. It has also proven helpful when dealing with those “volcanoed” holes that can appear on greens where there is too much organic material near the surface. As can be noted in the photo, players remove golf balls several inches from the hole. If your greens are too soft, it will create a raised area six to 12 inches around the hole which affects ball roll.

Timing sand topdressing on greens with plant growth is a year-round program in those locations where growth seldom stops. If the budget allows, don’t forget the fairways. Just make sure they are firm enough for your equipment. As January comes to an end, lets’ hope for an early spring to get the turf and game growing.

Source: Larry Gilhuly, lgilhuly@usga.org or 253.858.2266

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