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Factors That Affect Golf Course Turf Firmness

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The firmness of the greens on a golf course is an important factor that can greatly impact the playability. Firmness can vary from green to green and even from day to day on the same course. More importantly, a firm green is more durable and generally preferable in comparison to a soft green, leaving fewer ball marks in the turf. For turf managers, getting a putting green to be consistently firm is ideal.

According to USGA there are multiple factors that affect turf firmness. Soil moisture content is the most critical factor, but it is important to note that achieving firm greens requires more than just reducing irrigation. Other factors that influence firmness include organic matter and the physical properties of the soil, such as gradation and angularity.

Why Soil Moisture Matters For Firm Putting Greens

Soil moisture content is a key factor that can greatly impact the firmness of the greens on a golf course and can result in rapid changes from day to day. Inadequate management of soil moisture can lead to variations in firmness between greens. However, withholding irrigation to achieve firmer greens is not always a good idea as it can cause rapid turf loss if soil moisture levels are maintained at ultra-low levels for more than a day or two. It is important to maintain a balance between adequate soil moisture levels and turf health to ensure good conditions throughout the season.

How Organic Matter Affects Turf Firmness (Thatch)

The organic matter content of the soil also plays a significant role in determining the firmness of putting greens. Excess organic matter, such as thatch, can lead to softer greens, and even with reduced irrigation, greens with excessive organic matter content will rarely play firm. Organic matter acts as a sponge near the surface, so reducing irrigation alone is not enough to achieve the desired firmness. Proper management of organic matter is crucial for achieving ideal putting green firmness. On the other hand, having too little organic matter can also have negative effects on firmness and plant health, leading to unstable playing surfaces.

Soil Physical Characteristics That Affect Turf Firmness

The physical characteristics of the upper portion of the soil profile also play a significant role in determining the firmness of the greens. The uniformity coefficient (Cu) and angularity of soil particles are particularly important in this regard. These physical characteristics of the soil take time to modify through turf maintenance practices such as topdressing sand selection, aeration practices, and topdressing frequency. It is important to carefully evaluate these cultural practices when attempting to modify these characteristics. Special attention should also be given to these factors during the construction of putting greens when selecting a rootzone mix, as it will greatly impact the firmness of the greens.

If you”re interested in improving the resilience and play of your greens, contact STI today to learn how our measurement tools can help improve your turf.