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After a colder-than-average winter in the Southeast, it is safe to say that most in the golf course maintenance industry eagerly anticipate warmer temperatures and the emergence of turf from its dormant or slow-growing stage. One common trend observed during my travels so far in 2024 is preparing for the upcoming spring golf season by applying fertilizer. To adequately make decisions regarding these crucial fertilizer applications, it is imperative to conduct soil sampling throughout the year to assess soil properties and current nutrient levels, which play a pivotal role in the overall health and performance of the course. To ensure optimal results, it is recommended that sampling be conducted at least three times annually. Here are just a few reasons why year-round soil sampling is a good idea.

1. Monitoring nutrient levels and imbalances: Regular soil sampling enables superintendents to monitor nutrient levels in the soil accurately. Nutrient requirements vary depending on the season and turf species. By conducting soil sampling, a data-driven approach can reveal specific nutrient deficiencies or excesses correlated with particular health issues or growth patterns in the turf. This proactive approach aids in the early detection of deficiencies or toxicities, resulting in better turf conditions.

2. Assessing nutrient uptake: Various conditions such as temperature, rainfall, pH levels, soil minerals and soil aeration influence the availability and uptake of nutrients by turfgrass plants. Regular analysis allows golf courses to adjust their fertilization programs accordingly in response to these factors. This ensures that the turfgrass effectively utilizes nutrients and that fertilizers are only applied in the necessary amounts.

3. Enhancing environmental and economic sustainability: Year-round soil sampling aligns with environmental and economic sustainability principles. By assessing the nutrient status of the soil, golf courses can optimize fertilizer applications and minimize the risk of nutrient runoff. Providing the correct amount of nutrients in each application demonstrates environmental stewardship, prudent financial management and results in better conditions throughout the year.

Once you implement a year-round soil sampling program, it’s important to keep a few additional things in mind to make sure the results are accurate and meaningful.

1. Maintain consistency in sampling locations: Ensure the same playing surfaces are sampled across the golf course each time. This may include a selection of greens, tees and fairways but should encompass all 18 holes. Avoid sampling from one specific area of a green or fairway. Random sampling is crucial to obtain representative results. If there is a problem area, you may want to sample it separately to help identify any underlying issues.

2. Utilize the same laboratory: Consistently using the same laboratory for soil tests is essential. This ensures uniformity in processing the sample, testing methods and reporting, which are vital for accurate analysis and comparison over time.

3. Incorporate irrigation water analysis: Conducting soil testing alongside irrigation water analysis is imperative to establish effective management programs. Understanding both soil nutrient levels and water quality aids in tailoring fertilization and irrigation strategies for optimal turf health.

Year-round soil sampling should be part of your agronomic program if you want to be prepared for every season on the golf course. If you have any questions about soil testing, would like to review your results, or have any other soil nutrient issues, please reach out to your regional USGA agronomist and we’ll be glad to provide assistance.

Southeast Region Agronomists:

Chris Hartwiger, director, Agronomy –

Jordan Booth, Ph.D., director, USGA Course Consulting Service –

John Rowland, Ph.D., agronomist –

Chris Neff, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff