By Parker Cohn, CEO, Performance Resource Management
Nothing beats playing on your favorite course during the fall. The temperature is a near perfect 70° when you pull up to the club house. As you approach the pro shop counter, the pro informs you they punched greens this week and gives you a green fee at 50% normal cost. Nice, you saved some money and are looking forward to playing 18 at half the normal cost.
On the first green your 10 foot par putt bounces across the rough, sandy surface of the green and comes up short the hole. Your sentiment deteriorates as you walk off the first green. You will be putting on rumble strips. Not just for the next 4 hours, but for the next 2 weeks. You don’t make a putt all day. Putts dart left and right and you struggle with controlling distance due to the inconsistency of the greens. As you walk off the 18th green, you reflect on playing on aerified greens in the past. It’s just the price you pay for a pristine golf course. You know that aerification is just part of golf. It’s a necessary evil.
But what if it wasn’t?
For decades, core aerification has been a mainstay of the annual calendar and a sure sign of a competent superintendent. Two or three times a year, this physical disturbance (and annoyance) is used in an attempt to improve turf health by reducing compaction, increasing oxygen transfer, and reducing thatch. While core aerification might achieve these goals on the surface, the technique is outdated. Core aerification is the greatest economic liability in golf, the most expensive and potentially destructive decision any golf course can make, literally guaranteeing both higher costs and poorer soil over time. The goals of core aerification can be met - and exceeded - with biological soil management. Soil biology is the building block of soil health. Savvy golf course owners and operators make investments based on return, ROI. Investing in soil biology provides owners and operators the greatest leverage in the turf industry that we have come across. Healthy soil provides operators with better playing conditions at a lower cost while increasing revenue opportunities from more rounds played.
Golf courses are turning to soil biology to reduce compaction and improve the growing environment for their turfgrass. This innovation has eliminated the need to core aerify entirely at sites across the country. In a healthy soil ecosystem, millions of species of microorganisms are decomposing organic material, cycling nutrients, and improving soil quality. Oxygen transfer increases, turf density improves, irrigation efficiency skyrockets, and thatch is reduced to levels the soil biome can manage. Imagine what your club could do without aerification pressure. No more lost revenue from vacant tee sheets and discounted green fees. Labor costs, sand expenses, machinery upkeep, fuel - all required for core aerification, are no longer necessary. Best of all, no more complaints from paying customers about core aerification (they will certainly find something else to bring to your attention).
So what does incorporating biology into your soil management program look like? Consider Pinecrest’s experience. Historically, Pinecrest has aerified twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, for over 15 years. In 2020, they decided to use a soil biology management program instead- with incredible results. In maintenance alone, they saved a combined total of $15,000. On top of that, they made an additional $40,000 in revenue. Pinecrest saw more rounds played and full tee sheets, without discounted green fees. With an extra $55,000 in profit this year, Pinecrest Golf Course earmarked funds to invest in a course wide injection system for 2021. Using the irrigation system, they will increase the efficiency of their biological management program. The increase in profitability was due to more than 10x ROI from the soil biology program.
Golf course superintendents are turning to soil biology to improve playing conditions and increase the profitability of their operation. New innovation replaces conventional techniques each year. Why spend time and money on outdated management practices that negatively affect your business? It is time for core aerification to go.
Pinecrest is a golf course in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Mark Spratkes, Head Golf Superintendent, incorporated PRM’s biological soil management into his program and successfully transitioned away from core aerification during the 2020 season.
Parker Cohn is the CEO of Performance Resource Management. PRM specializes in soil biology and provides consulting services and technology solutions to the golf industry.