There is a common maintenance procedure that can and does significantly alter the putting surfaces' contours and raise the overall elevation in relation to the green surrounds. The frequent topdressing of greens to improve putting qualities was popularized in the 1980s and continues today. Frequent topdressing can easily add one quarter inch or more of sand to greens on an annual basis. So in 20 years, putting greens may be 5 inches higher. This significant build up is not noticed because it is fairly uniform over the entire green, applied gradually and therefore virtually undetectable. Any assumption that through core aeration, a lot of material is removed, would be inaccurate. In order for the greens to be acceptable putting surfaces and for agronomic considerations, after core aeration, the holes are completely filled and it takes a little extra sand to be insure that the holes are filled.
Topdressing Math, an old grass guy like me can still do the math!
- 125 tons of topdressing sand annually = approximately 2,500 cubic feet of sand
- 2.500 cubic feet divided by 120,000 square feet of greens = 0.02 feet of sand = 0.25 inches of sand annually.
- 20 years of topdressing would add 5 inches of sand over the existing surface
This kind of accumulation is evident on many great old golf courses' push-up greens. Are we so cavalier with the great masters' works? Any thoughts about Pinehurst #2 greens...hmm.
What impact does this unintended altering of contours and raising of greens up 5 inches every 20 years have on the design and playability of the golf course? The tie-ins to the surrounds may not play as designed and intended. In order to protect the playability of the fairway/green and surrounds/green interfaces, it may be necessary to start topdressing out into the approaches and the surrounds. It may also be prudent to start cutting back our topdressing volume on an annual basis and use less nitrogen and more growth regulators to maintain the putting qualities.
Vigorous monitoring of this issue will be a requirement going forward in order to protect the integrity of the golf course. Changes in maintenance practices can minimize the effects of these changes and renovations can restore the intended design/playability the golf course.