By Brian Whitlark, USGA Southwest Green Section agronomist
If the highly partisan politicians can agree to pass tax legislation in such a short period of time, then surely the Green Committee and board members at your club can agree to pass thatch legislation! Far too many golf course visits in 2010 raised the question — can we forego aeration this year? Unlike the slumbering economy the past two years, thatch never sleeps. Thatch and organic matter continuously accumulate at the surface and within 1-2 inches below. Removing organic matter and thatch through proper aeration techniques and verticutting, and dilution through topdressing, are absolutely necessary every year in almost all circumstances. In addition, prudent use of fertilizers is important to produce healthy turf, but be sure to curb excessive thatch accumulation.
Courses that want to provide tournament-ready greens throughout the year must have a long-term thatch-management plan. Remember that the short term disruption golfers must endure following aeration yields smoother, faster and more durable putting surfaces — period. In most cases, foregoing aeration for even one year will result in a significant increase in organic matter and thatch. As such, catch-up maintenance practices must be employed the following year, which will be more disruptive than a proactive management strategy. And worse, the putting surfaces will suffer. They will be softer, more susceptible to deep pitch marks and scalping by mowers. In 2011, manage thatch and organic matter proactively and enjoy better putting surfaces.