Too much thatch can cause a myriad of agronomic and playability concerns on golf course fairways. During wet periods, the thatch can swell like a sponge and lead to turf scalping when mowing. This issue is unsightly and can cause significant turf stress that could easily result in further decline during the heat of summer. Golfers who enjoy some extra ball roll at the end of their drives often complain about soft fairways and assume that the course is being overwatered when in reality too much thatch could be the problem.

There are many different techniques that can be employed for correcting a fairway thatch issue. In my opinion, vertical mowing is the best way to get a handle on excess fairway thatch. PTO-driven implements like the VC60SW04Verti-Cut 1600 and the Triple V 375 are extremely effective machines for removing thatch and promoting more upright turf with less grain. Once thatch is pulled to the surface, it can be easily blown into windrows, swept up and discarded. Just be prepared for a lot of material if you haven’t done this process in some time and your fairways are puffy. You might be surprised to see how much thatch you are able to pull out!

Core aeration is another effective technique for managing thatch. In addition to thatch management, it also provides additional agronomic benefits like reducing soil compaction. However, it wouldn’t be my first choice if thatch is the primary problem. I favor vertical mowing to mitigate the thatch layer and coring to improve soil physical properties. Many highly regarded golf courses incorporate both techniques at some point during the year to maintain high-quality fairways.

Northeast Region Agronomists:

Adam Moeller, director, Green Section Education – amoeller@usga.org

Darin Bevard, director, Championship Agronomy – dbevard@usga.org

Elliott Dowling, agronomist – edowling@usga.org

John Daniels, agronomist – jdaniels@usga.org

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff