The practice of topdressing greens, whether it’s a heavy sanding done during aerification or a light topdressing applied biweekly in-season, is something nearly every golf course superintendent per-forms at some level.
Smoothing the greens in-season is perhaps the No. 1 goal with topdressing, but a close second is no doubt the help it provides in preventing excessive thatch buildup, which can cause all kinds of headaches.
Other topdressing benefits include promoting upright growth, better water absorption, and modifying and building a healthy soil profile. And, in addition to smoothing the greens’ surfaces, topdressing creates a more consistent putting experience from green to green.
Here are 10 tips to consider for your topdressing program, whether it be your heavy aerification topdressing or your frequent light topdressing in-season.
1. Beware of stress.
Although part of a cultural program that can (among many other benefits) actually help relieve stress situations on greens, the practice of topdressing can also in itself add stress to already-stressed greens if done when those greens are suffering. Sounds like a bit of a Catch-22, right? Basically, make sure the greens are healthy enough to handle a sanding and brushing. Excessively dry greens (and greens suffering from heat stress), or greens infested or recovering from disease, probably aren’t the best candidates to be topdressed. Wait until you get them healthy enough to handle this cultural practice.
2. Use quality sand.
All sands are not created equal. Bargain sands are often offered to us by local outfits, but in the long run they are unlikely to be bargains (especially if you have to rebuild your greens down the road!). Make sure you’re in the right sand percentage range (80 to 95 percent) and, just as important, your particle range is in that .15 to .75 millimeter size. Actually, a safe bet for most golf courses is keep with what you’ve been using. Changes can cause layering, and layering can cause one massive problem.
3. Don’t over-brush.
After a light topdressing, brushing the sand into the canopy should be a one-and-done situation. One and done meaning one pass over and call it good. I’ve had well-intentioned workers in the past try and make the sand disappear by going over the green three or four times. Not what you want with a light topdressing. Occasionally, I’ve even foregone the brush and let some well-timed rain work the sand into the canopy.
4. Have some “rock crushers” ready.
Rock crushers is the term many of us use for the reels we have designated for the first mowing of the greens after a topdressing, either the same day or the next morning. Not only is mowing sand rough on the reels, but it is also a nightmare for bedknives. Be prepared for this. One of the best ways for this preparation is to simply have a mower (or two) designated as rock crushers.
5. Timing matters.
Just a suggestion, but you prob-ably wouldn’t want to topdress the morning of a big tournament, or the day your boss is coming out to play to check the speed of the greens. Yes, topdressing will improve playability and specifically smooth out your greens, but it won’t do it the day of a topdressing application.
6. Create a window.
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to accomplish a maintenance practice on the golf course that you simply don’t have a big enough window for. This is where communication with the pro shop is essential. Make sure you let them know why you need to topdress and the window that needs to be created to get the job done. The pro shop tends to think of everything in terms of instant revenue. It’s our job as superintendents to sometimes convey a bigger picture, as in a long-term outlook. Topdressing greens is a practice that, in the long run, will improve the golf course and create long-term revenue.
7. Check out your neighbors.
A good practice for any super-intendent is to get out and see what your peers down the street are doing in the area of topdressing.
8. Pool your resources.
No one knows or understands the troubles and situations that may arise better than the folks who are doing the same things you are. Even just playing a round of golf on a neighboring course right after it’s aerified can be enlightening.
9. Match your growth.
This is advanced topdressing here. As mentioned, a huge goal with a frequent light topdressing program is to keep the thatch layer from building up too much. If you can adjust the amount of sand you are applying to the specific growth of the turf throughout the year, you will no doubt be more successful in keeping the thatch to an acceptable minimum. Your rate of sand in the late spring may be different from your rate midsummer. And your rate in late summer or early fall might be slightly different from the midsummer rate. Paying attention to growth yield and clippings, as well as keeping in mind your current height of cut, are all factors you could consider to optimize your topdressing apps.
10. Soil testing.
Chances are the topdressing you are regularly applying is helping your soil profile. But, as with anything, you want to make sure. Once or twice a year it’s not a bad idea to take intact soil cores and send them into the lab you use for testing. They can test each layer. This is especially a good idea for a new super at an old course. And you could probably take this one step further and actually have the sand you are buying tested as well. More knowledge can only be a good thing, right?
You’re in it for the long haul. Like most sound maintenance practices, topdressing is not something you can try once or twice and then abandon, hoping your efforts paid off. Topdressing is an integral part of a continuous effort. Basically, you’re always chasing the rabbit. No one ever catches it. If you think you have, you’re in for a rude awakening down the road.
Topdressing is an investment in the future, and, if you think about it, the future is always in the future, right?
No one can argue the benefits of topdressing greens. From the smoothing of the surface to thatch control to creating better water absorption, it is a practice vital to the modern day golf course superintendent.
So get out there and play in the sand.
Read more: Tweaking Topdressing