Why Golf Courses Aerate Greens (Plus How To Putt Well On Them)

Every golfer loves playing on a beautifully manicured course and putting on smooth, consistent greens.

It should come as no surprise then that green aeration is one of the most annoying parts of golf course maintenance, as it drastically impacts the playability of greens and can make putts bobble around and even throw them off what you thought was the perfect line.

Golf course superintendents and greenkeepers no doubt hate it as much as players do – after all, who wants to see their hard work on a pure green ruined – but green aeration is an absolute necessity to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of greens.

So, then, why do golf courses aerate greens?

Golf courses aerate greens to control organic matter such as roots and thatched grass, and ensure water can move through the upper layer of soil freely. Aeration also aids in reducing soil compaction, helping oxygen reach the roots of the turf, promoting growth. Aeration and top dressing helps to maintain a smooth and consistent putting surface that is more resistant to wear and tear.

Even though the aeration of greens can detract from playability in the weeks immediately after it’s carried out, the practice will ultimately lead to a more healthy and consistent putting surface for the majority of the year.

Keep reading to learn more about the process involved in aerating golf greens.

What does it mean to aerate golf greens?

Aerating golf greens involves removing small cores of soil, usually around half an inch in diameter, from the putting surface to aid in water absorption and oxygen flow in the root system. This is usually done with a machine that punctures the turf and lifts these cores onto the surface to be removed, mulched, or spread elsewhere on the course. Solid, metal spikes can also be used at times during the year to promote oxygen take up without removing turf.

Core aeration will usually be performed during the growing season, so late summer is likely to see the best results and fastest recovery.

Around spring or towards the end of winter, many superintendents will opt for solid tine coring to help aid aeration and water absorption without placing too much stress on the putting surface at a time of the year where slower growth is seen.

How long does it take for greens to recover from aeration?

It takes about two weeks for a golf green to recover from aeration and perform similar to how it did prior to the process being performed. After four weeks, the greens should play to a high standard once again. The recovery time will depend on several factors including the quality of equipment used to complete the aeration and the weather conditions.

Plug aeration, where a small core of soil is removed, will have the longest-lasting effects on a golf green, but it will have a longer recovery time than solid tine spikes being used to pierce the turf.

Clubs that invest in machinery that takes very thin cores will see greens recover quicker, and less sand needing to be spread to fill the holes.

The topdressing of greens with sand will also impact recovery time, with some courses – usually those with less staff – often quite lazy in spreading sand, allowing it to settle naturally with play and weathering from the elements.

If sand is thoroughly spread into cored holes in the green, it will often return to normal playing conditions more rapidly.

Should you play on aerated greens?

Yes, you should definitely play on aerated greens; just be aware that they will roll far less pure than at peak condition. Greens at better courses, with higher quality equipment will usually be very playable immediately after aeration. However, lower quality courses with worse equipment may see their greens play quite poorly for a few days, if not weeks.

So long as you don’t mind adjusting to the changed conditions, playing on freshly aerated greens can still be quite enjoyable.

When playing on newly-aerated greens, it is worth ensuring you have the following accessories to minimise the impact the bumpy surface and sand can have on your clubs and gear:

  • Towel: you must have a good-quality towel if playing on freshly-sanded greens, as a lot of this sand will stick to your putter after each stroke. You really need to avoid excess sand on your putter face as this can effect the contact you make with the ball and send it off on the incorrect line.

  • Brush to clean shoes: if sand can stick to your putter, then it can certainly stick to your shoes. Make sure you have a good quality brush attached to your bag that can be used to clean in and around your spikes on the next tee to avoid slipping when playing your next drive.

  • Heavy ball marker: I find that the bumpy surface post aeration makes it hard to spike those lightweight plastic markers into the turf and they can easily become unsettled. A large, weighty ball marker is a must when greens are freshly aerated so that it stays in position.
Putting on aerated greens requires you to make a few key adjustments.

What are the rules for playing on aerated greens?

There are minimal rule changes that apply when playing on aerated greens, with general etiquette and laws of the game remaining. While it may seem tempting to brush away sand on the path between your ball and the hole, you have to play your ball under the existing conditions and adjust your stroke accordingly. Most courses, however, will implement a local rule allowing you to move your ball to the nearest point if resting in an aeration hole.

Ultimately, you have to play aerated greens under normal rules, and in a competitive round it is important to remember that the conditions are the same for everyone involved.

Yes, you may catch some bad breaks, but the rub of the green in golf is something present in all conditions and out of your control.

On aerated greens, a couple of changes to your game can be beneficial, largely to do with break and pace.

Be mindful that putts will encounter more friction from aeration holes and sand, and as a result your ball will need a bit more pace to get to the hole and won’t break as much as you might usually expect.

Final message

There’s no doubt that members at any club let out a collective groan after being notified about upcoming green aeration.

But advances in equipment and course management strategy mean that it doesn’t necessarily need to ruin your golf game.

Whether you like it or not, the relatively short amount of time that aeration impacts greens for is counteracted by the months and months of pure roll they then create, so it really is a necessary evil to ensure oxygen flow and drainage that leads to healthy greens.

If, in the week or two post aeration, you come to terms with the changed conditions and ensure you have the right accessories, playing on sandy, bumpy greens can still be an enjoyable experience.

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