COURSE CARE
Three Simple Methods For Leveling Tees December 7, 2018 By Pat Gross, regional director, West Region

For an attractive appearance and good playing quality, a teeing ground should have a smooth, uniform surface of closely mown turfgrass that exhibits good density and resiliency. Although teed typically have a smooth and consistent grade following construction, uneven surface conditions develop over time due to divoting, improper divot repair and natural soil settling. Releveling tees is typically necessary at five- to seven-year intervals, depending on play. Shorter intervals are sometimes required for par-3 tees and others that experience heavy traffic and divoting.

Assuming soil conditions are adequate for maintaining healthy turf, leveling a tee surface is relatively simple and straightforward. This article outlines three methods of leveling tees that are popular in the United States.

 

Preliminary considerations

To make sure that a tee-leveling project produces the best possible results, it is important to ask a few simple questions before work commences:

  • Do the tees need to be enlarged to accommodate the volume of play?
  • Are the tees properly aligned with the landing zone?
  • Are there other agronomic issues that need to be addressed to improve the performance of the teeing grounds? Common improvements include soil modification, enhancing drainage, and managing trees that shade a teeing ground or overhang and prevent full use of the tee surface.

 

If architectural adjustments or more extensive work is necessary, it is recommended to consult with a golf course architect so that all pertinent issues will be addressed.

 

Traditional leveling with a tractor-mounted box blade or skid steer

The most common method for leveling tees is to have a skilled operator use a tractor-mounted box blade, skid steer or similar piece of equipment to eliminate crowns and surface imperfections. The following steps are typically employed:

  • Remove the turf from the tee surface and an area several feet around the outside of the tee.
  • Use surveying equipment to determine the proper grade adjustments. A 1-percent slope, ideally away from golfer traffic and toward the rough, is recommended to ensure adequate surface drainage.
  • Install grade stakes at the corners, and in additional spots as needed, to guide the equipment operator.
  • Clearly mark sprinklers within the work area to alert equipment operators. It may be necessary to temporarily remove and cap sprinklers to facilitate the leveling work.
  • Fill any low areas with a sandy soil mix.
  • Grade the tee surface to remove high spots and fill low areas.
  • When creating or restoring rectangular tees, a wooden border can be installed to help define the size, shape and grade of the tee.
  • When the grading work is complete, reinstall and level any irrigation heads that were removed to prevent damage. Irrigate the tee to settle and firm the soil.
  • Rake or drag the tee surface and apply a preplant fertilizer in preparation for turf establishment.

 

The main advantages of using traditional leveling methods are that the equipment is typically already in the golf course inventory and there is usually someone on the maintenance staff that is adept at its operation. This can eliminate the expense of hiring a contractor to do the work. The disadvantages are that the project may take several days to complete, and the quality is highly dependent on the skill of the operator.

 

Laser leveling

Laser-guided grading equipment has been around for decades and has typically been used for construction and agricultural operations. This technology has been adapted for leveling golf course tees by using smaller, more maneuverable grading equipment that can operate in tighter spaces. Laser grading is typically a contractor service because it requires specialized equipment and skills. The following steps are typically involved with laser leveling tees:

  • Remove the turf from the tee surface and an area several feet around the outside of the tee. This task often is completed by the golf course maintenance staff.
  • The contractor surveys the grade of the existing tee to determine the amount of cut and fill that will be needed.
  • The laser equipment is set up and programmed to create a 1-percent surface slope.
  • Clearly mark sprinklers within the work area to alert equipment operators. It may be necessary to temporarily remove and cap sprinklers to facilitate the leveling work.
  • Add a sandy soil mix or tee mix if necessary.
  • As the contractor drives in circles over the tee, the grading blade automatically adjusts according to the grade programmed into the equipment.
  • When the grading work is complete, reinstall and level any irrigation heads that were removed to prevent damage. Irrigate the tee to settle and firm the soil.
  • Prepare the surface for planting by raking or dragging and applying a preplant fertilizer.

 

The main advantages of laser leveling are accuracy and the ability to level several tees in one day. Although the cost of hiring a contractor is incurred, the project is usually completed much faster and the tees opened for play much sooner than other tee leveling techniques. In addition, using a contractor allows the maintenance staff to continue with routine activities.

 

Aeration and use of a heavy roller

If there are only minor surface undulations of 5 cm or less, a novel method of smoothing the surface of a tee is to use a combination of aeration and rolling. The procedure involves the following steps:

  • Aerate the tee surface with 15 to 20-mm-diameter solid or hollow tines.
  • Irrigate the tee to create moist soil conditions.
  • Maneuver a 1- to 2-ton vibratory drum roller over the tee to smooth the surface.

 

This method is best adapted for tees with a sand-based rootzone that is less prone to compaction. The main advantages to this method are that the tees are not taken out of play, several tees can be done in one day and the process is relatively non-disruptive. The main drawbacks are that the process cannot address crowned tees or surfaces with more than about 5 cm of surface undulation.

 

Tips for success

  • Do not rototill or deeply cultivate  tees prior to grading. The disturbance will add to the time necessary to settle and firm the soil. If the tee is comprised of a compacted clay soil and needs to be cultivated, only lightly rototill to a depth of 7 to 10 cm.
  • In some cases, a significant amount of thatch and organic matter remains on a tee after the turf is removed. Making a second pass over the tee surface with a sod cutter can help remove excess organic matter without disturbing the underlying soil.
  • If a tee was previously capped with another rootzone material and additional material is needed for leveling, it is best to use a compatible mix so that the growing medium will be homogenous.
  • If importing a soil mix for capping and leveling tees, a loamy sand – such as contaminated bunker sand – is a good choice. A loamy sand is easy to grade and compact while also providing adequate water infiltration and drainage. Pure sand for use as a tee rootzone mix can be difficult to work with and may take longer to settle and compact.

 

Conclusion

There are high demands today for the presentation and playability of tees. At many golf facilities, tees are maintained with mowers set at a low cutting height of 6 to 12 mm. Such low cutting heights require a smooth, level surface to avoid mower scalping and provide optimum quality.  While leveling tees is often thought of as a special project, it should be considered a routine maintenance practice that is incorporated into the annual maintenance schedule. There is no need to level all teeing grounds at once or in a single season. Many golf facilities level six to eight teeing grounds each year on a rotating schedule. This minimizes disruptions while providing the top-quality conditions expected by golfers.