Putting Green Maintenance: Cultivation Improves Putting Greens

Posted by Demetro Carbone on October 16, 2013

Cultivation practices including spiking, coring, brushing, verticutting and topdressing affect putting quality more than they affect turf quality. Most of these practices are unique to putting green maintenance since they affect ball roll and ball holding. Spiking, coring and topdressing help soften the green and improve ball holding. Brushing, verticutting and topdressing reduce graininess and thatch accumulation and improve the uniformity, trueness and speed of greens.

Again, there is more art than science involved in determining how often to perform these operations, how severely to verticut, how much topdressing to apply and what materials to use for topdressing. Ideally, all of these operations are performed often enough to avoid disrupting the putting quality of greens.

Brushing can be done in conjunction with mowing to reduce graininess. During spring and fall on bentgrass and summer on bermudagrass, greens can be brushed lightly every day. Frequent brushing can reduce the need for vertical mowing, but vertical mowing is required to help control grain and thatch, to increase the speed of greens and to prepare bermudagrass for overseeding. As with brushing, light and frequent vertical mowing is required during the growing season. Bermudagrass greens should be verticut weekly during summer months. And, with the new grooming mowers, greens can be lightly vertical mowed on a more frequent basis.

Spiking and coring are important to aeration (root growth), water penetration, thatch and ball holding. Spiking improves conditions caused by surface crusts and surface compaction. Greens can be spiked frequently with little disruption to play. Coring provides more effective aeration and thatch control, but causes greater disruption of play than spiking. Coring also improves the ball holding ability of greens more effectively than spiking. Depending on the severity of problems, greens should be cored 2 to 3 times each year and spiked often as needed to maintain water infiltration rate, break surface crusts and hold properly played golf shots.

Topdressing is one of the most important, yet most neglected practices in greens maintenance. There was a time when topdressing was the “greenskeeper’s” most effective tool. Topdressing was used for fertilization, disease control, thatch control and improving putting quality. The “art” of topdressing seems to have been lost since the widespread use of commercial fertilizers, pesticides and mechanical aerifiers. The high cost of labor, equipment and materials has also contributed to the reduced emphasis on topdressing as a cultural practice.

For best results, topdressing materials should be screened, sterilized and composted prior to use on greens. Materials used for topdressing should be evaluated by a laboratory to avoid the addition of excess silt or clay which could seal drainage on a green or the addition of fine gravel which interferes with play and mowing equipment. Topdressing materials should be prepared during the “off season”, if such a time exists, so that they can be composted and available when needed.

Like all cultivation practices, light and frequent topdressing is more effective and more desirable than occasional applications of a heavy topdressing. Heavy topdressings are disruptive to play and tend to produce layers that interfere with water movement and root development. For most management programs, 4 or 5 applications of topdressing, properly timed, are adequate for bermudagrass or bentgrass greens. Topdressing should follow aeration in late spring and fall and at least twice between those applications to maintain putting quality and ball holding ability of greens throughout the summer.