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Aerification a key process for maintaining greens

Fish tanks are common in Chinese restaurants because they purportedly bring good fortune. The fact that they amuse carry-out customers until their chow mein is ready is just a bonus.

Fish tanks in pro shops are another thing.

Although there was one sitting in the middle of a Palmetto state pro shop several years ago.

Desperate to convince members their greens needed renovating, the enterprising golf course superintendent used the aquarium to demonstrate his case.

He laid a slab, or cross-section, from one of the existing greens in one half of the tank and filled the other side with a replica of the new soil profile.

Over several weeks he treated both sides of the tank with exactly the same care and lo (no, not mein) and behold, the new surface thrived while the old curled up its toes, smothered under a blanket of algae.

Fortunately for golfers, there is a far less expensive, less disruptive means of obtaining a great putting surface without having to shut down for months while greens are rebuilt from scratch.

It's called aerification - the process by which golf course superintendents extract thousands of finger-like cores from the green two or even three times a year.

Historically, golfers hate it but as the scenario portrayed above suggests, they should really love it.

It's for their own good.

Yeah, like going to the dentist, or their mother spanking them as a child, right?

Well, probably, yeah. But most golfers perceive enough long-term value out of preventive dental care that they do in fact turn up to appointments voluntarily.

Ditto, golf course superintendents and aerification.

Now and for next few weeks, most golf courses along the Grand Strand will perform some version of long-range care through aerification. Golf course superintendents will punch holes in their putting surfaces and fill them with sand.

Then they will likely brush that sand into the holes and down between the leaf blades and maybe even roll the surface several times to level it out. They will use irrigation to further help the sand settle in but nothing works better than a good rain, preferably during the night.

The other factor that superintendents cross their fingers for after aerifying is heat.

Ideally, they would like to see temperatures in the 70s overnight and of course plenty of sunshine during the day.

As one Myrtle Beach superintendent is fond of telling his golfers, "If you walk outside in the morning and the heat and humidity makes you want to go back inside ... that's when you know the bermudagrass is growing."

When the heat does come and Mother Nature cooperates, greens can fully heal from a major aerification inside 14 days.

But she has been so cantankerous this year, washing out most of January, February and the first part of March, that some courses are minimizing the degree of their aerification this year to keep golfers coming now that the season is up and running.

The upshot being that some courses will likely be rid of the residual effects - sandy greens without that baby's bottom smoothness - of aerification sooner than normal.

That is not a long-term solution though.

Performed regularly and thoroughly, aerification prolongs the lifespan of greens and allows them to be groomed for a far higher level of performance.

Without these holes creating, shall we say, root canals, shreds of plant matter and other debris eventually form a largely impervious layer strangling the flow of water, oxygen and nutrients.

Apart from the grass itself turning sickly and more susceptible to attack from disease and pests, the ground beneath the leaf blades becomes spongy.

The surface becomes bumpy and inconsistent and soon no one is happy.

So be mindful next time you encounter a course that has recently aerified, it may not look the prettiest but it will certainly be playable and everyone will be better off in the long run.