Between the Trees Blog

May 2012

From a golf course maintenance standpoint, May is usually one of the busiest months of the year for the crew. The flush of growth that accompanies spring makes mowing an ongoing chore as does the need to aerify greens. The following article may be useful in educating you in just what the purpose of aerification is:


Why aerify?

It's a perfect, sunny morning and you've just reached the first green in regulation. You feel great and you know you're within birdie range. Then, you see them, those little holes in the green. Arrrgh! They've just aerified the course, and it's going to ruin your round, right?

Well, maybe not. Consider the fact that PGA Tour legend Tom Watson shot a sizzling record 58 at his then-home course, Kansas City Country Club, just days after the greens had been aerified.

Consider also that aerification is merely a short-term disruption that has long-term benefits for the course. When you see them, remember that without those little holes, the greens would eventually die.

Like so many things, the quality of a good putting green is more than skin deep. In fact, the condition of a green has a lot to do with what goes on below the surface. In order to keep grass growing at 3/16-inch you have to have deep, healthy roots. Good roots demand oxygen. In good soil, they get the oxygen from tiny pockets of air trapped between soil and sand particles.

Over time, the traffic from golfers' feet (as well as heavy mowing equipment) tends to compact the soil under the putting green - particularly when the soil contains a lot of clay. When soil becomes compacted, the air pockets on which the roots depend are crushed, and the roots are essentially left gasping for air. Without oxygen, the grass plants will wither and die.

Aerification is a mechanical process that creates more air space in the soil and promotes deeper rooting, thus helping the grass plants stay healthy. In most cases, it's done by removing 1/2-inch cores (those plugs you sometimes see near a green or in fairways). The spaces are then filled with sand "topdressing" that helps the soil retain air space and makes it easier for roots to grow downward.

Other aerification techniques use machines with "tines" or knives that simply poke holes through the soil profile. A newer technique even uses ultra high-pressure water that's injected through the soil profile to create small holes that relieve some compaction but heal quickly.

The bottom line is that aerification is a necessary practice. But before you curse the superintendent for ruining your day, just think of Tom Watson.


On the subject of aerification, we were blessed with ideal conditions for the process on May 14th and 15th and as a result we were able to perform the task thoroughly. Most holes were filled and the amount of organic matter that we removed was substantial. The steps that we perform to aerify are as follows:

  • Aerify greens with one half inch tines.
  • Remove cores by hand with snow shovels
  • Blow off any remaining debris with backpack blowers
  • Water greens heavily
  • Roll greens twice
  • Topdress greens with sand
  • Drag in sand with a brush
  • Touch up areas of greens with heavy sand with a large blower
  • Roll greens again
  • Fertilize greens with a balanced fertilizer
  • Water heavily
  • Mow greens the first few times with old greensmowers to minimize damage to our newer mowers.
  • Roll heavily in between mowings
  • After about five days, greens are ready to be mowed with our newer, sharper mowers

As of today-less than a week after aerifying-greens are for the most part recovered from the beating. One thing that will be noted is that the greens are slower than usual as a result of the very high fertility we keep on them for the few weeks after aerifying. This is a necessary evil in order to speed recovery. Putting greens should return to their optimal speed of about 9-10 feet on the stimpmeter over the next few weeks.

On the subject of greenspeeds, I would like to point out that we could easily make our greens faster than 10 feet on the stimpmeter-indeed we have done that in the past for serious tournament play. The problem with doing this consistently on our greens is the severe undulations on virtually every green. Very fast speeds would make it very difficult for most players to have an enjoyable round. Three putts or even worse would be a regular occurrence, pace of play would be brutal, the number of pin placements available would be severely reduced, and the golf course would not be as enjoyable to the vast majority.

Thank you all for your business and we hope to see you on the course.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

April 2012

The Wilderness Golf Course opened on April 13th of this year-the earliest opening date ever. The golf course endured the winter the best it ever has and turf conditions were the best I have seen them for this time of the year. The weather over these past few months has been wonderful-until this past weekend. As I write this article, I can see close to six inches of snow on the golf course and needless to say this has put a bit of a damper on things for the moment.

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18 Green April 16, 2012

This is not the first time we have been hammered by snow early in the golfing season and it will not be the last. This snowfall poses no real danger to the golf course and its condition-though it may delay the onset of the consistent growth required to recover from wear and tear. On the subject of wear and tear, I would like to share a pair of articles that should help players to help us to keep the golf course in the best shape possible.

Fixing divots

Key points:
  • If you create divots, you should also repair them -- that's part of the etiquette of the game.
  • Repairing your divots ensures that other golfers have the same level playing surface.
  • Different methods are used to repair divots. Be sure to ask about the local procedure when you are playing at a new course.

If you play golf, you create divots -- it's part of the game. However, if you create divots, you should also repair them -- that's part of the etiquette of the game. Repairing your divots ensures that the golfers who follow you have the same level playing surface you had when you started your round.

A number of different methods are used to repair divots, and each of them is designed to make sure that the type of grass growing around the divot fills in as quickly as possible.

Some courses ask that you simply replace your divot. In this case, you should replace it in the same direction that it came out and firmly tamp it down.

On courses whose tees and fairways feature actively growing bermudagrass, you will often be asked not to replace the divot, but rather to fill the hole with sand the course provides. In this situation, fill the divot and then tamp down the sand so it is level with the surrounding area.

At some courses in the North that feature ryegrass and in the South where dormant bermudagrasses are overseeded, you may be asked to fill the divot with a sand/seed mixture. Again, it is important to tamp the sand down so the seed will germinate.

At the Wilderness Golf Course, we ask that you replace your divots whenever possible. The divot may or may not grow back with this technique (depending on the condition of the divot and weather conditions) but this will help to control the accumulation of debris on fairways and improve playing conditions for other players golfing after you. If in the event the divot is not intact enough for replacement, then the proper procedure is to fill in the divot with the provided sand/seed mix.   The bottom line is that it is the player’s responsibility to make some effort to repair divots.

See you on the golf course.

Vincent Dodge

March 2012

I write this article after walking the golf course this morning to inspect conditions. Unseasonably warm weather and an overall lack of snowfall throughout the winter made this possible since in a “normal” year access would be much more difficult. My findings were very encouraging-I have never seen the golf course come through the winter in better condition. That being said, we plan on beginning work outside on the week beginning March 19th .  

All indications are at the moment that this will be one of the earliest openings ever. We will just have to wait and see. The picture below was taken this morning on 18. The course looks as clean as I have ever seen it at this time of the year.

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Have a great March and hope to see you soon.

Vincent Dodge CGCS

February 2012

Winter work progresses at the golf course maintenance building with a large emphasis in the next few months on inspection, rebuilding, and spin grinding of mower reels to prepare for the 2012 season. This process includes:

  • Removing and cleaning cutting units from all of our reel mowers. Our green, fairway, and tee mowers all use reel type cutting units and we have a total of 47 reels in our inventory.
  • Reels are inspected and bearings are replaced on reels that have higher hours on them.
  • Once these processes are complete, both the reels and bedknives are sharpened using grinding equipment.
  • Reels are assembled and adjusted.

The following page from a Toro service manual should be helpful in explaining the basic principles of the reel mower:

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Golf course equipment has come a long ways in the past 100 years. For your viewing enjoyment, I have a link to some photographs from the past that show you just how much things have changed over the years:

I cannot imagine some of the difficulties-especially in the area of employee safety-that old school greenkeepers must have dealt with. Interesting stuff.

Have a great February, Grounds Department

Vincent Dodge CGCS


January 2012

This winter has proven so far to be an unusual one for the Iron Range. The lack of snowfall so far this season has been something to be concerned about-not just for area businesses dependant upon snowmobile traffic but also for area golf courses. Normally by January we have a healthy coat of snow on the golf course. This is a good thing as this snow acts as an insulating layer protecting turf from the ravages of cold and dry winter winds. Because we have so little snow, a turf condition called desiccation might be something that we will be dealing with in the spring.


The main reason we cover our putting greens is for protection against winters much like this one. For this reason, I am confident that we will emerge in the spring in decent shape despite the winter challenges-though we may see some exposed areas of the golf course that are damaged. Areas like six tee, 18 tee, and 13 fairway have historically shown their vulnerability to desiccation.


The article below is an interesting read for those interested in learning more.



By Nick Christians (Iowa State University)

January 2, 2012

While this mild winter has been great for holiday travel, it will probably not be good for golf course superintendents. Surprisingly, it is the hard winters that are generally good for the golf course. Snow cover and cold temperatures through mid to late winter protect the turf from desiccation and the golf course emerges in the spring in good condition. It is the open, mild winter with windy conditions like we are getting today that results in drying of the turf (especially bentgrass) and causes damage that can persist well into the spring and even to early summer.

The last few winters have been anything but mild. The white Christmas has been the standard for the last few years and heavy snow cover has been common in many areas of the Midwest. Winter desiccation has been rare and we tend to forget about it. Unless the weather changes soon, this will be one of those springs where severe desiccation is common. In my experience here in Iowa, it is the northwestern part of the state that gets the worst damage because that area lacks tree cover and is exposed to the northwest winds of winter.

So what can you do about it? Greens covers are part of the answer and those of you who covered your greens a few weeks ago should be fine. But, there are many uncovered golf courses in the state. Fairways and tees generally go uncovered and these areas can be badly damaged even on courses that cover greens. Winter watering can be useful if you can do it. When I worked in Colorado years ago, winter winds would kill bentgrass greens and tees if we did not get some water to them during mild winters. It was too cold to charge the irrigation system. The courses had water trucks and it was typical to spray water over the greens every couple of weeks to keep them hydrated.

Topdressing is another way of protecting greens. In the 80’s and 90’s we did some work on this. I will post some information from that work in the next few days. The last couple of weeks I have had some questions on whether it is too late to topdress in January and if it is not, how much topdressing should we apply. I don’t know the answer to those questions. If the mild weather continues, we will try to get a quick trial together at the research station to look at these issues. I’ll keep you informed about the work during the spring.

Winter desiccation on bentgrass

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Area that was protected by a cover during a mild winter

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As this winter unfolds we will be updating everyone on the status of the golf course. In the meantime, we should be hoping for more snow.


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