March Madness: It Was The Best Of Times February 27, 2015

March Madness: It Was The Best Of Times

By Chris Hartwiger, USGA SE Region Senior Agronomist

March 31, 2009

Basketballs launched from behind the three point arc are not the only things associated with March Madness. It hits the golf course, too, and can be summed up in the following recipe. Add one part warm weather, one part golfer, and a set of eighteen aerated putting greens. Presto! You've got March Madness on the golf course.

Core Aeration: "They Don't Do This at Other Courses"

March madness doesn't only happen on the basketball court. Core aeration is an annual spring ritual on bentgrass putting greens that also tends to drive golfers mad.

March Madness is a roller coaster for golf course superintendents, too. One superintendent can be mired in the worst of times while his neighbor is enjoying the best of times. Guess which one has aerated putting greens? For USGA agronomists, one of our annual spring rites of passage is to field telephone calls or emails dealing with some variation on the following question, "What can be done about this practice of core aeration? It's destroying our greens." In order to get to the bottom of this question, we must separate the myths from the facts.

Question: Do all other courses aerate their greens? I notice in my town that our greens are the only ones aerated right now.

Answer: Core aeration is highly recommended in the spring, and is done at virtually all courses with bentgrass putting greens. The date may be in February, April, or May, but it will be done in most cases. Core aeration, followed by filling the holes with sand topdressing and surface topdressing applications, are two key components necessary to keep putting greens in good shape over a long period of time.

Question: Why can't we aerate with ¼-inch tines twice instead of using the more disruptive ½-inch tines?

Answer : Geometry. It would require four aerations with ¼-inch hollow tines to equal one aeration with ½- inch tines, assuming the spacing is the same. Also, larger tines create bigger holes, which are much easier to fill with sand.

Question: Why does aeration ruin the putting greens for six weeks?

Answer: The aeration date plays a major role in the healing time of the holes. Aeration performed on March 1 will have a much longer healing time than aeration performed on April 15 because of colder soil temperatures and shorter day lengths.

One of our standard recommendations to help make March the best of times on bentgrass putting greens is to schedule the aeration at a time when healing time is kept to a minimum. In other words, the golf course should schedule aeration when it will disrupt as few days of golf as possible. Some courses have decided to move aeration into mid-April or later for these reasons. To further minimize aeration disruption, private golf courses can work together when scheduling aeration dates and create a reciprocal agreement with a nearby course for play during aeration recovery periods. Aeration always will be the worst of times for putting quality, but it is necessary and it can be managed to keep the pain and suffering to a minimum.


We have reviewed one of the few reasons why March is indeed so maddening. It is a time of year when the best of times and the worst of times are on a collision course. Unfortunately, there is no early warning system to avoid this temporary inconvenience. The crash is predictable and it happens every year. Anticipate it. Get ready for it. And most of all, remember that March Madness only lasts for a month. And then April Anxiety arrives, but that's another story. . . .

Related Links:

In Depth Aeration Articles: /content/dam/usga/pdf/imported/030301.pdf


USGA Sponsored Research on Aeration:

Educational Video:

Source: Patrick O'Brien 770-229-8125 or and Chris Hartwiger 205-444-5079 or