May 16, 2008
Most courses in the Southwest have completed the spring ritual of core aeration and topdressing greens. While golfers despise this practice because it comes at a time "when the greens are just getting good", superintendents appreciate the importance of coring to relieve compaction, remove thatch, and restore good air porosity in the root zone. The last point, restoring good air porosity in the root zone, cannot be overstated. If you look at soil profile samples taken from greens, where do you see the longest, strongest, healthiest roots? In the aeration holes! While roots need water, they need air just as much.
As we approach the warm days of summer, it might be worth pointing out this fact to golfers and the staff members responsible for watering greens. It has become commonplace for courses to perform some form of venting aeration throughout the summer to maintain good air exchange in the soil profile and keep the roots as healthy as possible. This is usually done with non-disruptive techniques such as spiking, slicing, or pencil-sized solid tines. Most golfers don't even notice the impact to surface quality, yet the improvement in turf health is very positive.
From the maintenance staff perspective, it is typical for superintendents to stress the importance of good water management during the summer. Why not turn that around and discuss the importance of good air management. The ultimate goal is to maintain a balance of air and water in the root zone. Too much water, and the roots can't breath. It is important to remember that water conducts heat, and too much water can heat up the root zone and damage sensitive turf roots.
The son of a superintendent from the central valley of California once told me a story about how his dad taught him the importance of managing both air and water in a putting green root zone. Keep in mind that the central valley is very hot during the summer, and the most desirable job is to grab a hose and water greens. If he put too much water on greens, his dad would take the hose away from him and hand him a bucket of water and a paper cup and tell him to just get the dry spots. Lesson learned.
In the end, good air management is every bit as important as good water management.
Source: Pat Gross, Southwest Director, USGA Green Section