Teach Your Old Green New Tricks!
How True Aerification Can Improve Drainage and Golfer Experience
By Sabrina J. Russo
Just outside the buzz of New York City, the Seawane Golf Club in Hewlett Harbor on Long Island is a haven of manicured grass and ocean views. Close enough to the city to provide an escape for busy city-dwellers, Seawane’s team of 16 crewmen, three assistants, and one mechanic is responsible for keeping the course lush, beautiful, and always available for its members. Maintaining the beauty and playability of a 90-year-old, 18-hole golf course is no simple task. No one knows this better than the club’s superintendent, Brian Benedict. For 17 years, Benedict has grappled with everything from wind to flooding tides to hurricanes to keep Seawane at its best.
When a golf course is located on a coastline like Hewlett Harbor, salt-water intrusion is inevitable, making efficient drainage an absolute must for sustaining the health of the turf. Seawane’s classic design by noted golf course architect Devereux Emmet in 1927 includes push-up greens where rapid drainage can be a particular challenge. Benedict and his team have tackled the challenge in some extreme scenarios — including during Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed nearly half of their greens. This would be a challenge for any course, but for a classic course like Seawane, built before modern drainage technology, keeping the greens dry and useable requires an innovative approach.
“Having the drainage in the greens is important,” he said. “Whether you have a freak thunderstorm or just a normal irrigation cycle, you want to be able to displace water. Golfer satisfaction is what you strive for. Nobody wants to play on a wet sloppy green.”
To combat poor drainage, Benedict maintains a regular aerification routine on the course year-round, using the Air2G2 aerification machine to create underground fissures that promotes percolation and water movement.
“If you get a rainstorm or an irrigation cycle, you don’t want mushy greens,” he said. “The Air2G2 allows you to move water through your profile to your drain lines.”
To prevent compaction and water buildup, Benedict aerates every seven to 12 days, taking three or four days to aerate the entire course. This schedule is possible with the Air2G2 because it can take place around play without disrupting it. The Air2G2 injects air below the surface, fracturing the soil but leaving the turf above virtually untouched. By making the Air2G2 a part of regular maintenance, Benedict indicated that spot-treatment is rarely needed.
“When you’re religiously using [the Air2G2], you don’t really have any problems. You don’t have problems that crop up that you need to spot treat specifically because it’s in regular use,” he said.
In a conversation with Benedict during the Golf Industry Show in Orlando in February, he looked out at the trade show floor referencing the thousands of other golf course superintendents in attendance.
“If you pulled every guy in here together and asked them what’s the number one thing they’d want for their greens, they’d say you need porosity. You need to move water. Why do guys build greens out of sand? Because they want percolation, they want water to move down. And this machine helps that.”
Based on his two years of experience in using the Air2G2 regularly at Seawane, Benedict offers his Top 3 tips for success:
- Vary Your Depth: According to Benedict, programming the Air2G2’s probes to inject air at different depths means better drainage all throughout the soil profile rather than just in one place. Turf has different drainage needs as the seasons change, and it is up to the superintendent to ensure soil is fractured throughout the profile.
- Preventative, not Curative: Set a maintenance cycle that works for your course and stick to it to avoid issues like puddling or excessive compaction. Regular use can prevent these situations from occurring in the first place, and Benedict believes other classic courses can reap the same benefits as he has at Seawane. “I would think it’d be 1,000% effective on old pushup greens. I think it would help those greens immensely,” he said.
- Don’t Let Your Air2G2 Gather Dust in the Shed: The Air2G2 is non-disruptive, so don’t be afraid to use it in any season or between play. At Seawane, Benedict follows play with the Air2G2 to ensure that aerification doesn’t impact golfers. With the Air2G2, you can aerify regularly without your members ever knowing you did.