Click above to watch demonstration report
October was one of the wettest months on record and the current weather forecast is not much better with even more rain forecast for November. Most winter games pitches and golf course fairways will now be at field capacity and any more rain is likely to tip the balance, causing them to become saturated / waterlogged. Once in this state they are prone to damage either from play and training or indeed from trying to carry out maintenance tasks.
Pore spaces, particularly in soil dominant root zones will be filled with water (saturated). Playing on saturated soil profiles will certainly result in surface damage. Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. The action of players running, stopping, sliding and turning in studded or bladed boots will result in surface damage. The severity of the damage will be dependent upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
To help keep the top 100mm free draining a programme of surface aeration is necessary. This is achieved by regular spiking with slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow.
There are a number of specialist machines that can help with improving surface drainage, for example the versatile tractor mounted Verti-Drain machine. Also, linear aerators have been around for many years and continue to do a good job of decompacting pitches down to a depth of 200mm. Whilst in recent years we have seen the development of several compressed air aided machines such as the Sisis Javelin Aer-Aid 1500, AirG2, GP Air machine , OxyShot and the The Airter to name a few that can aerate to greater depths.
It is essential to employ a variety of aeration techniques to prevent pan layers being created. This usually happens if you continue to use the same aeration tine / corer set at the same depth and will result in a compacted layer forming at the base of tine / core depth. Most turfgrass managers try to vary methods of aeration, changing the depths, size and diameter of tines.
The variety and choice of implements and devices now available is excellent, providing different tine sizes, operating widths and shattering features that can meet the requirements of any facility and, more importantly, do not disturb the playing surface and allow play to continue after use. With the demand for higher quality, all year round playing surfaces, turfgrass managers are always interested in trying out new techniques to keep playing surfaces aerated. In recent years we have seen the development of pressure air and water aerators that offer deeper aeration than conventional aerators.
On test at Lilleshall GC
Recently I had the opportunity to see two compressed air machines being demonstrated at Lilleshall GC resulting from a meeting I had between their director of golf, Chris Cann and head greenkeeper, John Chantrell. They had said they were interested in trialling both the Air2G2 and OxyShot machines at the club to see if they could help improve some surface water logging issues they had on two fairways. Knowing that local contractor Kevin Moult, md of Air 2 Root Turf Care & Soil Solutions Limited, had both machines for hire we set up a meeting to arrange the demonstration.
Kevin and his son Jamie started the company in 2018 when they had the opportunity to buy a Air2G2 from Campey Turf Care Systems and on the back of the purchase along with other aeration equipment and renovation equipment, they now can offer a full programme of renovation and aeration services to sports clubs up and down the country.
Kevin himself an ex greenkeeper with twenty plus years as a bowls maintenance contractor, felt it was time to leave the day to day maintenance of bowling greens and move into more specialist works, focussing on end of season renovations and specific aeration tasks - a decision that now sees him travelling the length and breadth of the country.
Lilleshall Hall Golf Club is set in a quiet and picturesque area of rolling Shropshire countryside. The 6253-yard course along with small driving range, sits in 165 acres of land adjacent to Lilleshall Hall and its National Sports Centre. It is characterised by tree-lined fairways, cutting through mature woodland and generally small, undulating greens. The course is one of 300 designed and developed by the most famous of golf course architects, Harry S. Colt.
Since its opening in 1937, minor changes to the course have been made to ensure that it remains an enjoyable but testing round of golf. Five years ago, two holes were extended to create challenging 500 yard+ par 5s. However, since the work was completed, both of these extended fairways in front of the two greens suffer surface water logging problems during the winter months. The club have installed a number of drains and regularly aerate with solid tine Verti-Drains and linear aerators, but to date still suffer from surface water ingress in areas in front of the greens.
The combination of having heavy clay soils, slopes, and foot traffic, underpinned by the fact that the land was previously marsh, has resulted in surface water not getting away efficiently leaving the fairway nearest the green waterlogged during the winter months.
Following recent discussions involving the club’s agronomist, Chris and John decided to see if either the Air 2G2 or OxyShot could help improve the situation.
First up, The Air-2G2 is a self-propelled hydrostatic drive three probe air injection machine, injecting compressed air to either 175mm or 300mm deep (depending upon probe fitting). This causes a fracturing effect of the compacted rootzone, with no surface disruption. The machine can be used for a variety of pitches including bowling greens, golf courses and rugby pitches, among others as part of sports ground maintenance routines.
Next was the Charterhouse OxyShot Air-Injection Unit that has a single probe which is available in two diameters. The machine is compact and manoeuvrable allowing easy access to normally difficult to reach areas. The, OxyShot probe blasts air in 4 directions at variable pressures to a depth and duration that the operator requires down to a maximum of 500mm using the 25mm diameter probe, thus lifting, expanding and de-compacting the soil.
When using the OxyShot the operator can vary the amount of air pressure being injected during the insertion of the probe, thus enabling full control of the amount air needed for any given situation.
I also took the opportunity to enlist the help of Jon Newton, a fellow photographer and video editor, md of Lets Get It Shot to film and record the work being carried out during the demonstration. See video at top of page.
It was interesting to see both machines at first hand. The Air2G2 was very effective and quick over the ground, whereas using the OxyShot was a tad slower due to the fact you had to have a tractor and compressor on hand to supply the power and transport the unit.
While there, they also propose to use both machines on some nominated tees and greens. Both machines are able to offer a different method of decompaction and the results will be defined by how well the machine has been used and the experience of the operator. Also, the timing of when the work is done will also have a bearing on its success.
Depending on the severity of the compaction it may well take more than one operation to achieve the desired results. Many more sports grounds are beginning to use these type of aerators on a more regular basis, say between 2-3 times a year. Several sports facilities are now utilising all three methods (Verti-Drain, linear and air compressed) aeration methods to relieve compaction on their playing surfaces.
The months of October, November and March tend to be the busiest periods for aeration work on most sports facilities, when the ground conditions are favourable. However, if you have a fully drained pitch, aeration work can be done virtually any time of the year.
Regular and seasonal aeration maintenance operations are essential to ensure turfgrass quality is maintained throughout the playing seasons of most fine natural turf and field turf facilities. The use of air compressed aeration machines are increasingly being used on sports surfaces to alleviate compaction, with the bonus that injection of air (oxygen) can have additional benefits of speeding up the carbon cycles within the soil profile, which often sees other benefits to helping maintaining a healthy sward.
I will certainly be monitoring the aeration work completed out on the course in the coming weeks, especially keeping an eye on the work done by the two machines on the two problematic fairways.
TurfPro will include an update on the aeration work, and maybe a more in-depth feature on the course and the work of the greenkeeping team, in the new year.