Topdressing greens – every superintendent did it, does it and will do it until their final days at work.
Getting it just right, though, takes tweaking. There is no one size that fits all when it comes to putting down sand.
At TPC Twin Cities, located just north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Superintendent Roger Stewart is managing sand-based greens on a golf course that opened in 2000.
Originally the greens were L-93 bentgrass, but Stewart has been interseeding with a variety of bents since taking over in 2008. Following the lead of his predecessor, Stewart regularly puts down Trimmit plant growth regulator.
Mark Michalski, Stewart’s first assistant, heads up the topdressing program. He says that from June 1 through the end of August the greens receive a light application of sand every two weeks. Aerification takes place after Labor Day, and if the weather stays warm the greens will receive light applications of sand until the end of September.
“It creates better ball roll and helps quicken them up a bit,” Stewart explains. “It does affect green speed.”
He says there are also agronomic reasons for the frequent topdressing.
“There’s a very direct benefit from a plant health standpoint. Surrounding the crown and pushing the plant forward in its growth, and it helps control thatch,” Stewart adds.
Firmness is also a result of adding sand, which provides the added benefit of reducing ball marks, according to Stewart.
The greens at TPC Twin Cities receive an aeration with small tines in the spring and 0.5-inch tines in autumn.
“We go with solid tines in the fall and topdress into the holes,” Stewart notes, adding that his greens have about 3 percent organic matter.
During the season 0.25-inch needle tines are used every other week.
The material Stewart puts down comes from the same company that supplied material when the course was constructed.
“We match the sand to the sand that was used to build the greens,” Stewart says, adding that he checks to make sure it matches. “We regularly test out topdressing sand.”
Heading into winter, the greens are covered with black-dyed sand at a rate of 3,000 to 4,000 cubic feet per 1,000 square feet, according to Stewart. The black sand is dragged in so leaf tissue is still visible.
Stewart says this procedure has been used since the course opened, and he thinks the black sand slightly raises the surface temperature in spring, speeding up the snow-melting process. It also serves to green up the plants quicker in the early part of the season.
“The key is you have to be very consistent with topdressing,” Stewart notes.
The scenario at Bishops Gate Golf and Lakeside Community in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, is a bit different than most. Superintendent Robert Kilduff oversaw the conversion of an 18-hole golf course into an entirely new 12-hole layout that also has an expansive practice facility, including five practice greens. There are 3 acres of greens in total.
The practice holes opened in the summer of 2012, and the golf course opened a year later, so for a while Kilduff had two management regimes going at the same time on the TifEagle putting surfaces.
According to Kilduff, it took six to eight weeks to grow in the greens, after which he topdressed with the actual greens mix for six months. Although it can be unsightly and harder to clean up than straight sand, Kilduff says it’s a necessary step to getting a healthy stand of bermudagrass. Since then he has been applying straight sand.
Kilduff tapped into the knowledge of area superintendents to find a supplier of quality sand and made sure the sand was not too fine so as to prevent the soil “sealing up,” he explains.
Because of the teaching academy that runs through the school year, Kilduff’s maintenance schedule, in part, has to work around the students. There are 40 students this academic year, with an additional 60 expected in 2015-2016.
He aerifies five times a year between May and August. For two out of those five he performs a complete aeration – from pulling cores to topdressing, dragging in sand and blowing off the putting surfaces – twice in two days.
In New Haven, Connecticut, on the Course at Yale, Superintendent Scott Ramsay’s maintenance program, including topdressing, is dictated in part by a former superintendent who held the position for more than 40 years.
Over the course of four decades the greens were never topdressed, according to an oral history of the superintendent recorded by Yale University.
“He felt it was the bane of golf greens,” Ramsay says of the former superintendent. “It was his management philosophy.”
The course, designed by Seth Raynor, opened in 1926. According to Ramsay, the greens mix is comprised of pond muck and glacial outwash sand that sits on top of a cinder layer. Not surprisingly, there was a thatch problem when Ramsay arrived 11 seasons ago, and he continues to try and rectify it on his 6 acres of putting surface.
“The solution to pollution is dilution, and thatch is pollution,” Ramsay says.
He has been topdressing every two weeks or prior to a rain event. In mid-December of 2014, he made a slight adjustment to his program, switching from sand particles 2 millimeters in diameter to sand that is 1 millimeter. Ramsay was concerned that the smaller particles would bind and cause even more problems, but he attended a class and learned that the smaller size works on old push-up-style greens. He’s glad to make the change, since the smaller particles work into the canopy quicker.
Yale usually hosts three college golf tournaments a year (there will be four in 2015): one in the spring and two in the fall. Ramsay isn’t allowed to perform any cultural practice that will negatively affect tournament play. He’s technically allowed to aerify in August and November, but only performs the later one.
“They were aerated three times in November/December 2014,” Ramsay wrote in an email about his greens. “Solid tine, then deep tine (solid) 10 inches deep, finally the weather was so good we went out with 5/8[-inch] hollow tines to correct a few thatchy greens and ended doing them all. This year has been so good we are able to fill the deep tine and 5/8[-inch] hollow with sand into the profile, not just on top.”
For winter prep, Ramsay creates plenty of space for sand.
“I stop mowing the first of November and let the greens get a little fuzzy,” Ramsay notes. “I topdress into the fuzz.”
The goal, he adds, is to have a significant amount of sand on his greens, but with leaf blades still showing.
“The benefits are to the golfers and the bentgrass populations, a drier winter turf that isn’t as affected by ice buildup and is protected from desiccation,” he writes. “All of this sand allows for a better spring green-up.”
Cover photo courtesy of Dakota