Is there anything worse than putting on aerated greens? Or bad greens in general?
While some golf courses have slow greens and others have fast greens, the main thing golfers want is smoother greens. Most of us want to hit a good putt and hope that it rolls true, even if it’s on the slower side.
But when golf courses aerate, smooth is the last thing you’ll experience when rolling putts. Instead, golf balls will bounce all the way to the hole, oftentimes leaving you praying for a good putt (and some good luck) instead of relying on skill.
As you’ll learn today, while it’s a frustrating process it’s one that is necessary to keep your favorite golf courses in good shape. Today we’ll break down the aeration process, how often it’s done, and how to putt on aerated greens.
Golf Course Aerated Greens 101
Unless you’re brand new to golf, chances are you’ve had to deal with the aeration process at your local golf course. This is when courses bring in massive equipment to “punch” the greens, aka insert holes in the greens (and fairways sometimes) to make the grass healthier.
This is referred to as core aeration.
Here is the formal definition from the USGA, “Core aeration involves physically removing small soil cores – e.g., 0.5-inch diameter cores – from the turf and is the most common type of aeration. Aeration holes allow excess moisture to evaporate and promote gas exchange in the soil, resulting in stronger root systems and turf that is better able to tolerate golfer traffic.”
It’s an expensive process for courses but it’s needed to ensure the grass stays healthy and have the ball roll properly. Otherwise, golf courses risk fungus and other green issues that can lead to long term damage.
- Every course aerates their greens (also known as punching) usually several times per year.
- Most golf courses are played in April and September-October. While hotter climates like Arizona might aerate earlier in June before the summer heat.
- The process only takes a few days (the course is closed) but recovery can take 2-3 weeks depending on weather conditions.
- Aside from core aeration, there are other types of aeration throughout the year. Some of which are much less labor intensive and allow the greens to “vent” without interrupting the conditions for players.
Keep reading to learn everything about aerated greens to learn what to do when it happens at your country club or local golf course.
What is Core Aeration in Golf?
If you’re like a lot of golfers I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, “Why do golf courses aerate greens?” Despite what you might think, they do this for the golf course to make the conditions better for the long.
Here’s how Phil Cuffare, director of Agronomy at Oakland Hills Country Club, described why the process must be done via Golf Digest.
“A layer of organic matter—consisting of decaying roots, grass stems and other plant material—tends to build up over time where the grass stems meet the soil. When that layer gets too thick, water gets trapped at the surface, causing greens to be too soft.
Additionally, excessive organic matter buildup can prevent root growth and reduce oxygen levels in the soil. What it does is it allows water infiltration and oxygen, so you get a healthier plant.”
Later saying that is the most important thing you can do to make sure greens stay healthy. It’s a “necessary evil” to ensure the greens get plenty of oxygen and provide a solid putting surface year round.
The USGA greens confirmed this statement saying that greens are aerated to improve play more than anything else. “Putting greens receive more traffic than any other playing surface. The aeration process helps relieve the compaction caused by all that traffic. It also helps create a firm, smooth putting surface by controlling thatch and promoting healthy turf roots.”
Additionally, the aeration process also helps “scratch the thatch.” This is old plant material that builds upon the surface of the soil.
The USGA elaborated in the same article by saying, “If thatch on putting greens is not diluted by aeration and topdressing, it will act like a sponge, holding water near the surface. Excessive thatch creates soft playing conditions, inconsistent green speeds and increases the risk of disease.”
Once the greens are punched, greenskeepers add sand (topdressing) to fill the aeration holes. This helps promote a smoother putting surface and the sand helps with the rehabilitation process.
Green Aeration Schedule
One of the most frustrating parts of aerated greens is when greenskeepers choose to do it. They don’t just do it at off times of the year but instead, when the greens are looking good. This makes a lot of golfers think, why are you aerating the course in peak conditions?
The reason is that aerating when the grass is healthy minimizes the damage and speeds up the return.
While it might work out better at different times of the year for golfers, it can make the recovery process significantly longer. It can also increase the chance of having weeds, fungus, and potentially cause lasting damage to the golf course.
In the same Golf Digest article mentioned above, the head superintendent said the process takes 2–3 weeks for greens to heal. But it all depends on the weather conditions after the greens are punched.
“The springtime aerification can take a little longer just because of the inconsistency in weather. Typically, we see a fall aerification heal right along because the soil temperatures are already elevated.”
The exact time frame depends on the location of the course and typical weather conditions. Most golf courses have a planned aeration schedule at the beginning of the year as it’s a time intensive process. Plus, they know when to punch the greens to time it with tournaments.
For example, at my home club they always punch the greens the day after a big pro-am event in April. They’re able to get the greens perfect for the event and can make them fast. Because the day after the tournament (which gets a lot of wear and tear) they’re able to punch the greens.
With the next big member-guest event six weeks away, they have plenty of time to get the course back to 100% in time. Some courses aerate the greens themselves, while others hire a third party company when it comes to performing aeration. This is not a cheap process either!
How to Putt on Golf Courses With Punched Greens (Playing on Aerated Greens)
Putting is already a difficult part of the game to begin with and punched greens makes it even more difficult for your golf game.
As Ben Hogan said, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games. One is played in the air and the other on the ground.”
Since the greens have holes and/or sand on the surface, putts do not perform like normal. Here are our best tips when it isn’t optimal playing conditions.
- Stay patient. Putting already requires plenty of patience but even more so on an unsteady putting surface. Remind yourself that every golf green needs to go through this and laugh off bad putts.
- Hit the golf ball slightly harder. Since they don’t mow the greens after aeration the greens are shaggier than normal. Make sure to hit it harder which is also necessary in case your putt gets offline from hitting a hole early on in the putt. Not to mention the excess sand can make the putt even slower (this happens the first few days after aeration).
- Play less break. Since the greens aren’t as fast or smooth as normal, you’ll need to play less break than normal.
Also, chipping is different too on freshly aerated greens. Use less loft around the greens so the ball will hit and release more than a high lofted flop shot. High shots might land in an aeration hole and get kicked off line and not release toward the hole.
You’ll also want to hit chips harder just like putts as the sand and holes on the green can slow it down.
FAQs About Why Golf Courses Aerate Greens
Do you have more questions about aerated greens? If so, keep reading through our most common questions and answers below.
What are aerated greens?
Aerated greens are when superintendents and their staff use equipment to punch holes in the green. Sand is then added to help speed up the healing process which will also make a smoother putting surface.
Is it worth playing on aerated greens? Should you play aerated greens?
It depends on when the aeration process is complete. The first few days after the greens are punched I’d say no, it’s not worth it. Unless you’re a member of a country club and already paying monthly dues, it’s not typically worth your money to putt on freshly punched greens.
But if you’re playing on them a week or more, it’s usually pretty close to normal. Plus, a lot of courses reduce green fees since the putting surface isn’t 100%. Always check with the golf facilities on when they punched and how they’re healing before booking a tee time.
How long does it take for greens to heal after aeration?
Roughly two to three weeks but it depends on the weather more than anything else. Golf courses punch greens when the weather is best (typically Spring and Fall) as it helps speed up the healing process.
If the weather is good after aeration – not too hot or cold – it can speed up the process. But if it’s very hot, cold, rains, or other inclement weather, it might take 3-4 weeks.
Is it hard to putt on aerated greens?
Yes, putting is already a difficult part of the game but aeration makes things even more difficult. Since the ball can get offline quickly (from hitting a hole and bouncing upward) it makes putting more of a guessing game than skill. Some courses adopt “aeration rules” to make it more fair for players to putt after aerification.
What happens if you don’t aerate greens?
Every golfer’s dream is to play a course 365 days a year that doesn’t aerate. But sadly this is a daydream more than a reality
As noted above, aeration is a necessary evil to ensure that excessive thatch is removed and that the grass gets plenty of oxygen. If golf courses don’t aerate a few times per year it can lead to serious putting issues that can damage the course.
Aeration is a frustrating but necessary part of golf. Many courses do it a few times per year to maintain healthy greens year round for better long term health. I’d advise against playing the course the day or two after as the greens are almost unplayable.
However, some courses are better than others when it comes to aerating greens. Some courses bounce back quickly and after a few days you can hardly notice the difference.
Before booking a tee time make sure to double-check if a course has been aerated recently. There’s nothing worse than getting to the golf course only to realize the greens had just been punched.
Calling ahead or checking online is even more important when booking bucket list golf courses like Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Bandon Dunes, etc. Popular golf courses like this will generally list out aerated dates online but always confirm if you’re booking a trip near that time of year. Otherwise, your epic golf trip might get spoiled from poor greens.
If you do play golf on punched greens, remember to hit putts and chips harder and use a lower ball flight. Or, see if they have a local rule in place to deal with the small holes on the greens.
Final Thoughts on Aerated Greens
The best way I can put it is that aeration is a necessary evil for both golfers and superintendents. In early fall and late spring sanded greens with tiny holes and top dressing are a part of the process on most courses.
While most golfers hate this process because it happens when the greens are in peak shape (aka growing season) and can take several weeks for the green surface to heal. While greenskeepers and their team don’t love the process either as it’s expensive and makes for a long few days.
Not to mention they get a lot of grief from members and players if the process takes longer than normal. They also have to hope for good weather after aerfication to ensure a speedy recovery process.
But if this process doesn’t happen, it can lead to disaster for the golf course in the long run from soil beneath the surface and root system issues.