Aeration

Aeration is a key part of our maintenance programme.  Jim Arthur, our STRI agronomist in the 1970s and 1980s stated that aeration was the most important aspect of turf management.

Why do we aerate?
Technically, when we aerate we are increasing the air content of the soil, by increasing the amount of pore space between soil particles.  The aeration work counteracts the compacting effects of foot traffic and maintenance machinery.  Every footstep and machinery pass pushes soil particles closer together, reducing pore space.  With increasing numbers of rounds being played (particularly winter golf.) and more intensive maintenance such as rolling, the need for aeration is greater now than it has ever been.

Roots at 20cm depth at the bottom of a core when changing holes, these roots have followed tine holes.

What are the benefits of aeration?
  • Improved drainage and soil porosity keeps the turf firm and dry, particularly after rainfall or irrigation.  (This has a double benefit as firm and dry soil is much less prone to compaction than wet soil.)
  • Deeper rooting and increased root mass
  • Improved drought resistance
  • Improved wear tolerance
  • Faster breakdown of thatch / lower organic matter content in the soil  (The organic matter content of the soil has a big impact on play-ability.  More organic matter leads to more foot-printing and pitch marks and the organic matter retains moisture leading to increased disease.  It is key to meeting our firmness targets which give us greens that reward a well struck shot.)
  • Less fertiliser is required and fertiliser is used by the plant more effectively
  • Reduced need for irrigation
  • Reduced dry patch
  • Reduced incidence of disease
  • Play during frost with reduced turf damage
  • Faster greens (Our greens are quicker when they are dry)
  • Well aerated soil is a healthy soil where the whole soil biology is in balance
  • Healthier turf with a higher percentage of fine grasses and less moss and weed growth

What happens if we don't do enough aeration?

All of the bullet points listed above as benefits of aeration are turned around.  Compaction increases leading to impeded drainage and softer surfaces that are even more prone to compaction.  The weed grass Poa annua gains a big advantage in compacted soils and the finer fescue and bent grasses struggle to survive.  Ultimately we would end up with soft, thatchy, bumpy, slow and disease prone greens and the need for temporary greens and even course closure in winter.

The disadvantages of compacted soil can be clearly seen on areas of the course subject to concentrated traffic.  In these areas the finer grasses do not thrive and the sward is dominated by Poa annua and Ryegrass.


Our aeration programme

Although we have the advantage of soil that is sandy and naturally well drained, we still need to do aeration work to maintain the soil in that state and prevent the deterioration that would be inevitable without it.  There are examples locally of golf courses on equally well drained soil with greens that are soft in winter and where foot-printing and deep pitch-marks are a real issue.  At Aldeburgh the aeration work we do is not remedial work to solve problems as it is at many clubs.  We aim to at least maintain and if possible improve on where we are now.  There is nothing new about this, we have STRI agronomists reports dating back to the 70s that recommend frequent (up to weekly!) aeration work on the greens.  A common thread that runs through the reports and advice of all of the agronomists visiting Aldeburgh over the last 40 years is the need for an effective aeration programme.

The majority of our aeration work is done during the winter months and we aim to alternate between deep and shallow aeration.  Summer aeration is also beneficial and we fit it into the work programme if we can but with a full fixture list it can be difficult to balance short term disturbance with our long term goals.  We aim to aerate five or six times over the winter (October to April) and at least twice during the Summer.  If levels of play continue to increasing and more frequent mowing and rolling become the norm we will have to increase the amount of aeration work we do.

Shallow aeration with the Procore 864
This time with chisel tines but we can fit solid round tines or hollow core tines

Deep fairway aeration with the Terra spike

Summary

Aeration work has been a fundamental part of the maintenance programme at Aldeburgh Golf Club for over 40 years.  It gives us the well drained, firm conditions that set Aldeburgh apart from many clubs.  It is essential for promoting healthy soil, a healthy, fine grass dominated sward and better playing surfaces all year round.

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