Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Thousand Ways to Topdress

One of the beautiful aspects of golf course management is that no two golf courses are the same.  Golf courses in the same state, same town, or even "north/south" courses on the same property are different and there are a thousand different ways to maintain them and achieve the desired results. This is what makes golf course maintenance special and unique and gives each golf course superintendent the possibility to put his or her personal stamp on the golf course.

Topdressing of the greens is a vital process in maintaining healthy and well performing greens that putt well, drain properly, and are firm to accept impact from golf balls, foot traffic, and the weight of the golf course maintenance equipment.  For many years we have been applying our weekly topdressing sand with a mechanical spreader followed by a custom made drag mat to help incorporate the sand into the greens.  This process works well but we found ourselves collecting a large amount of the sand in our mower baskets the following days which was then discarded, having to do extra maintenance to the greens mowers due to the damage caused by the sand passing through the reel and bed knife, and having many disgruntled golfers no matter how hard we worked to get the sand worked into the greens.

So as some have noticed this year we have taken on a different approach to our topdressing program and so far are seeing very satisfying results.  Instead of using the heavy mechanical spreader which we had difficulty applying a consistent light topdressing with, we are using push spreaders like the ones used to apply fertilizers and other granular products to the greens.

A couple of years ago when we did the DryJect procedure on the greens we purchased dried bagged sand to inject in the greens.  We did not use all of the sand during this process and have been playing around with the idea and benefits of applying the sand with push spreaders since then. This year took the plunge and decided this is the method we are going to use to topdress our greens.  The use of bagged sand is more expensive than bulk order sand but this way we do not have any loss of product due to contamination, spillage during loading or transport to the greens, and we have an exact measurement of the amount of sand we are placing on the greens.

Our application rates are 5-10# of sand per 1,000 sq ft. each week depending on growth of the grass and how much play we have had or are expecting to have.  It is a light rate compared to that which is suggested by some research and golf associations but we have found the following advantages. We have eliminated any compaction on the greens from the heavy mechanical topdresser, eliminated the compaction and bruising of the turf caused by the drag mat machine, eliminated the loss of product due to spillage or contamination, eliminated the rush to get everything done before golfers start play (at this light rate we can do it in play and no one notices), and we have reduced the damage to the cutting units and all the expenses that go with having to change bedknifes, sharpen reels, and ease the frustrations of the equipment technician.

We are by no means discounting the importance of topdressing greens with sand.  It has many great benefits which we believe we are still experiencing and will continue to benefit from as we move forward.  This process will allow us to place less stress on the greens, our small numbered agronomy staff, our equipment technician, and will be less disruptive to your round while all along providing firm, fast, and true playing surfaces. Looking at the course with the "third story" mentality has allowed us to see that just because certain cultural practices might work at another golf course or be recommended by someone they may not be best for our course or work into our program.

We have had so many compliments on the course this year which we are grateful for and they have all been passed on to the agronomy team.  Changing the way we topdress our greens has freed up some time to do other things on the course like giving a "shout out" to my alma mater, Auburn University, while waiting for the mowers to finish grooming the greens. (It can't all be work you know) We really hope everyone is enjoying the changes we are making to the maintenance programs and philosophy at Harrison Bay as all the hard work done on the course is to benefit your game.

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