New choices can give added punch to your greens aerification.

Bob Merritt, president of Ceres Turf Inc. (CTI), says the challenging economy has forced many golf courses to spend less; in some cases, that has meant reduced maintenance. Even so, and factoring in that the number of golf courses in the U.S. has dropped, “the number of aerification tines sold, and the amount of aerifications done, has fairly dramatically increased,” Merritt states.

Turfgrass schools are emphasizing aeration, and many golf course superintendents are hearing from consultants that they need to move a certain percentage of soil with each aeration, Merritt says.

In addition, new grass cultivars that grow more laterally and with more thatch are being used, meaning that aeration is no longer something that’s done just for compaction. “You need it to do a thinning out,” Merritt explains.

At the same time, the way aeration is done has changed.

“Ten years ago, standard coring would involve going out in the fall with a fairly large coring tine: a 5/8-inch standard with three or four on the block. Today, many superintendents are going with essentially the same size tine, but much closer spacing. A 5/8-inch quad tine was unthinkable back then,” Merritt says. “Now the blocks are not just single rows; they’ll do double rows across, so on one block you actually have 10 tines, so there’s a lot more soil being moved.”

Ted Pegram, a former superintendent who now serves as a field specialist for JRM Inc., also sees changes in aeration practices and the tines being used.

“Most superintendents are using smaller tines, but aerifying more often,” he observes. “With bentgrass greens, it used to be in our area [North Carolina] that you usually did your core aerifications about twice a year: around March 15 and about the middle of September. That’s changed to where superintendents are using solid tines or star tines or cross tines or bayonets every three weeks throughout the growing season to try to get good oxygen exchange.”

Another new approach, whether on bentgrass or bermudagrass greens, is to go in early spring or late winter with bayonet tines in order to encourage root branching, Pegram explains.

“The bayonet, like its name, is a flat .5-inch- or .75-inch-wide tine. It basically slices down into the roots to encourage branching before there’s been a lot of top growth,” he says. “Some superintendents will continue to use those in place of small solid tines throughout the season. There’s minimal disruption, and if you’re using a .75-inch-wide bayonet tine, that’s like using three .25-inch tines in terms of how much surface you’re opening.”

Brooks Hastings, product marketing manager with John Deere Golf, says some superintendents are going even smaller.

“Needle tines seem to be becoming more popular; they’re being used more throughout the year,” he notes. “We’ve got a smaller 5mm tine and a little bit larger 8mm tine.”

According to Hastings, some superintendents opt to needle tine early in the spring and then core aerify in the summer, and others will continue to use the needle tines in the summer to relieve some stress.

“They don’t want to pull cores and make a big mess. Needle tines are going to be very unobtrusive, but you’re still going to create that void for air and water,” Hastings says, adding that needle tining can be done in the morning and golfers can potentially be playing on the course the same day.

He emphasizes that needle tines are just one tool in the aerification arsenal for most superintendents. John Deere has dramatically increased the variety of tine styles it offers in the last couple of years.

“We heard from superintendents that they want a more diverse lineup, because they’re trying to do different things at different times of the year,” Hastings notes.

Tine selections have grown to include a wide array of shapes and sizes of both solid and coring tines. “All superintendents want to get the same result: They want an excellent playing surface that looks great. But every superintendent and every course is different, so they’re all going to have a different way to get there,” Hastings says.

Changes in construction

Beyond the expanding array of sizes and shapes, one continually evolving trend regarding aeration tines has to do with their construction. Carbide-tipped tines, in one form or another, have been on the market for many years, and now new takes on that technology are hitting the market.

“First there was the introduction of carbide tips and different processes of putting those on – brazing, no brazing, etc. – and different strengths of the carbide,” Pegram explains.

While early versions of carbide-tipped tines offered better durability, there were also shortcomings. “The carbide tip would stay there, but as you got to holes six or seven or eight, the carbide would begin to mushroom and spread out bigger than the size of the tine itself,” Pegram says. “A lot of superintendents feel that with carbide tips they don’t get quite as true of a hole as you do with a standard tine.”

In response, JRM and other companies have experimented with different carbides and tips, as well as wall thicknesses and manufacturing processes. JRM’s newest creation uses a chemical treatment process that blends durability with precision. The company’s Infinity line, which is currently being tested, will eventually include solid, coring, bayonet and other tines, all utilizing this specially treated steel.

Techno Tip

TINE TRENDS

  • More superintendents are using smaller tines and aerifying more often.
  • Another new approach is to aerate with bayonet tines in order to encourage root branching.
  • Companies are experimenting with different carbides and tips, as well as wall thicknesses and manufacturing processes.

“They may not last quite as long as carbide-tipped, but the average superintendent will still get about 120,000 square feet of green,” Pegram notes.

“The latest thing that we’ve introduced, and I think it’s a trend, is our Phoenix tine,” Ceres Turf’s Merritt says. “It’s not a carbide-tipped tine, but it has the wear properties of a carbide tip in terms of longevity. But the big advantage is that you have a sharper cut throughout; the tine will pull up, generally speaking, more material with the same size barrel.”

This is possible because the Phoenix tine has a larger inside diameter (ID) than is possible with “chunkier” carbide-tipped tines with the same outside diameter (OD), Merritt explains. “It’s the ID, of course, that’s a determining factor in the size of the core,” he notes. A special treatment hardens the steel to create added durability.

John Deere recently introduced its new Precision line of tines, which Hastings says was developed in response to input from superintendent customers.

“They told us that they needed a tine that would be durable and have increased accuracy and detail. They wanted a consistent aerification hole quality, meaning there’s no pulling of the turf when the tine exits the ground and no elongation,” he explains.

A new manufacturing process has been used to create the three tiers of tines (Standard, Plus and Ultra) in the Precision line, which achieves these goals, Hastings says. Particular attention was paid to eliminating ridges on both the inside and outside of the tine, which can potentially pull up turf when exiting the soil. For example, on the Precision Ultra, a carbide tip (manufactured with very tight tolerances to ensure it has the same ID and OD as the base of the tine) is connected in a way that creates a seamless joint.

These tines are then sandblasted to ensure a smooth surface. The smoother the surface, the cleaner the cut, and that’s what superintendents are asking for, Hastings says.