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Q&A with T.A. Barker - Fore Lakes Golf Course Superintendent

Q&A with T.A.
By T.A. Barker GCS
Fore Lakes Golf Course – President, Intermountain Golf Course Superintendents Association
As I sit here with the rain pounding on my office window thinking about a few questions I get asked most frequently, I decided I would like to start off by defining what a golf course superintendent is.  We are the men and women who manage the playing conditions of the golf course.  We are trained and educated professionals entrusted with the care of the golf course and its environment. We are the golf course.
The first question that comes to mind has probably been asked by all golf professionals, general manager and every golfer that has ventured to a golf course early in the morning only to be told there is a “FROST” delay.
The best way I can describe what happens when you walk or drive on a frost covered turf is to imagine all the veins in your arms freezing to a solid state and then you bumping it on your kitchen table.  What would happen?  In turfgrass when you drive or walk on the frost, you are actually breaking the “veins” that move life up and down the plant resulting in bruised tissue and possibly death to the plant itself.  The bruising effect is why the turf turns a blackish color afterwards.  So next time you get to the course early, give the guys in the shop a break and order a cup of coffee, sit back and watch it melt.
The next question I get is why do you have to aerate?
The answer is really quite simple.  Aeration is all about movements in the soil – water movement, gas movement, nutrient movement and root movement.  All these different movements can be hindered by overly compacted soil.  Compaction is caused by multiple elements such as daily play, daily mowing and water just to name a few.  When we physically punch a hole in to the soil we are allowing the water and nutrients to move down, the bad gases to escape, and creating voids for the roots to grow.  If any of these movements fail to take place in the soil the turf can and will eventually die.
The next question always comes with the previous question – why aerate in the peak of the growing season?
Superintendents aerate in the spring and the fall when ground temperatures are at optimal growing conditions.  Our cool season grasses found in the majority of Utah are growing at their peaks in mid to late Spring and late Summer to early Fall.  Aerating at these times are going to give the turf the best and fastest chance at recovering from the aeration.  Cool season grasses go dormant in the heat of summer and cold of winter so aerating too early in the spring or too late in to the fall makes it almost impossible for the turf to recover and the holes will remain open until the soils get to that perfect growing temperature.  In some cases, I have seen greens that were aerated late into the fall and not heal until almost the following April.  
In my years at Fore Lakes I have found the best time for me to aerate is around the 20th of August.  This is the time of year when the nights are cooler allowing the soil temperatures to drop promoting healthy turf and fast recovery.  We have approximately 10-12 days of recovery time at my course.
In closing, I wish you all green fairways and smooth greens on this journey we call life.  Remember the superintendent’s job is not to ruin your round but to make sure there are plenty of rounds in the future.  The next time you see one on the course, make sure to tell them thanks.
T.A. Barker is the class A Golf Course Superintendent at Fore Lakes Golf Course and graduate of the Penn State Turf Grass Program.
If you have a question you would like T.A. to attempt to answer about the golf course or even your home lawn please email him at [email protected].  Your question might be in the next Q&A with T.A.