Do these fellows do it just to spite us? We wait all Winter for the greens at our club to start showing signs of improvement, especially those poor souls unfortunate enough to be forced onto the dreaded temporaries. Then we get a bad Spring and we are still waiting until, at last, Summer arrives and our putts start rolling true again, and we begin to hole a few and get more confident and then it happens.
Those wicked green keepers come out and drill holes in each and every one so that we are back missing two-foot putts again as our ball hits the little drill holes and bounces sideways. Surely they must do it on purpose?
The answer is a most resounding no. And those of us at Ashdown have no need to start cursing at all as our heavy clay soil does not get its full aeration treatment until late September or early October when things are quieter. It is members of clubs on lighter soils who will be experiencing those tell-tale holes, and bumpy putts in August.
Grass, like any plant, doesn’t grow in the soil it grows in the spaces within the soil. And as we walk over the ground or drive machinery across it, these spaces get compressed thus reducing the spaces for roots to grow plus cutting down the amount of room for both water and air to flow. This is called compaction.
In order to keep the soil healthy it has to be kept aerated so that beneficial bacteria and fungi can be kept in healthy numbers to break down the organic matter left from dead roots and plant leaves. The trick is to do it when howls of anguish are not going to be heard from members as another putt lips out at a crucial time in the season.
Fortunately there are now various forms of aeration that can be used. During the Summer at Ashdown what is known as a sarel roller is applied with its 1” spikes. And you can barely tell that it has been used.
A 4” pencil tine- a tine is a sharp point or spike- is also used on a larger machine, which helps to keep the topsoil open without any disruption to the playing surface. Most compaction occurs around this level.
But green keepers need to go deeper than this so the roots can extend downwards and water can drain, so they wheel out the Verti-Drain, a tractor mounted vertical drainage system that sends long spikes down into the soil in just the same way that traditional garden forks were used, only expending a lot less time and energy.
The timing of this is critical. If the ground is too hard the machine will not be able to get in deep enough and could be damaged. Too soft and the sides of the holes become smeared and the shattering action required to break up the soil fails.
Timing the use of the Verti-Drain is always something of a juggling exercise with the fixtures’ diary and the weather. Afterwards the surfaces are lightly rolled to smooth them and the holes are left open for the ground to breath and the now shattered soil to settle back. Following this the surfaces are regularly slit to keep them open during the winter months, but only when the ground is dry enough.
And it really is not done to make us miss putts but to ensure the greens are rolling perfectly true for next season, so we have only ourselves to blame when we leave another one short!