Since the day Edwin Budding invented the first mechanized reel mower in 1830, there has been a steady improvement in the conditioning and playability of putting greens. Today, mowing and lightweight rolling are the primary practices used by superintendents to achieve smooth, fast greens.
In the early days of golf, the height of the grass on putting greens was controlled naturally by the intense grazing of rabbits and sheep. This changed with the invention of mechanized mowers and the ability to mow the turf lower and more consistently. Rolling was also an important practice in the early days of golf, and it gained popularity in the early 1900s. The equipment used at that time was what many today would consider a heavy-weight roller, and frequent use resulted in soil compaction and a decline in turf health.
Over time, advances in equipment technology resulted in mowers that can cut grass to less than 0.1 inch and a variety of lightweight rollers to provide fast, true putting surfaces on a consistent basis. In the quest for faster and faster green speeds many superintendents have experimented with different mowing and rolling programs to see what combinations are best for creating smooth, fast greens while preserving the health of the turf. TodUnfortunately, there have been situations where unreasonable golfer demands for faster and faster greens has resulted in turf loss as superintendents implemented excessively low mowing and frequent rolling over a prolonged period. Where is the balance and what is realistic? The goal of this article is to examine the various factors associated with mowing and rolling greens and to put forth a practical guideline for developing an agronomically sound strategy that achieves an appropriate green speed without risking turf injury.
Why Mow and Roll Putting Greens?
Frequent mowing benefits putting green turf in several ways:
- Controls vertical growth
- Helps grass spread laterally
- Promotes high shoot density
- Produces smooth surface conditions
- Creates less friction with the golf ball and increases green speed
Lightweight rolling has also become a common practice on putting greens. Primary benefits include:
- Increases green speed
- Promotes smooth surface conditions
- Allows for raising the cutting height while maintaining green speed
- Aids with the incorporation of sand topdressing
- Corrects soil heaving and mower scalping in regions with freeze and thaw cyclesReduces algae and dollar spot disease
The quality and frequency of mowing and rolling operations has a direct impact on both turf quality and surface conditions. Sharp, precisely adjusted mowers do a better job cutting grass blades cleanly and evenly. This benefits turfgrass health and putting quality.
Basics of Mowing and Rolling
Mowing injures the grass; therefore, healthy and actively growing grass is a prerequisite so that it can withstand and recover from the injury caused by mowing and rolling. If putting green turf is experiencing any type of stress – e.g., high temperatures and humidity, frozen conditions or a pest infestation – mowing and rolling practices need to be adjusted and scaled back until the turf recovers, otherwise the risk of additional decline is possible.