SHADE + TRAFFIC = DIRT February 27, 2015


By Pat Gross, Director, Southwest Green Section
May 1, 2009

Nearly all golf courses have them. Those annoying bare areas that are void of turf in various sections of the course. Why are they there? In many cases, the answer can be explained by a simple formula:

Shade + Traffic = Dirt


If you take a careful look at your golf course, you will notice that many of the bare areas tend to be where golf carts exit the path in a shaded area and along edges of fairways where there is persistent traffic and shade from nearby trees. We know that turf needs plenty of sunlight for healthy growth. When sunlight is limited and additional stress factors are added, such as traffic, the turf is slow to recover and eventually dies.

To gradually eliminate these bare areas, it is important to address the following five factors:

Evaluate shade patterns - In addition to walking the golf course, making notes and taking pictures, it is good to get an aerial view of the property. A satellite image of your property from the Web site Google Earth is a good starting point. Another option is to arrange for an aerial photograph to be taken of the course. In addition to shade patterns, the aerial photograph can be helpful in identifying other stress factors such as poor irrigation coverage, drainage problems, and potential differences in soil type.

Prune and selectively remove trees - Develop plans to prune and selectively remove trees to improve sunlight exposure in heavy traffic areas.

Redirect traffic - Traffic barriers (posts, signs, rope) can be used to direct golf carts to enter and exit the paths in a sunny location where there is a better chance that the turf can survive and recover from the extra traffic and wear. Consider extending the cart paths into sunny locations to allow multiple entry and exit points. Keep in mind that maintenance traffic causes just as much damage as golf carts. Employees should make every effort to avoid repeated traffic in shaded areas.

Preventive maintenance - Schedule additional aeration and fertilizer applications in heavy traffic zones to compensate for the additional traffic and stress. This is best done well before the area turns to dirt. Be sure to take care of other issues such as drainage and irrigation coverage that may be contributing to the problem.

Sod - Sometimes there is no other solution but to periodically install sod in heavily worn areas. Develop a sod nursery in an out-of-play section of the course or budget for the purchase of sod to repair chronic weak areas. Sod is only an effective solution if the previous actions are taken to help the sod survive.

Source: Pat Gross,