Making the Rounds: Economics alter golf course aerification habits


Usually only four-letter words are uttered with such disdain.

The most invasive of the processes by which golf course greens are maintained is despised by players since it turns pristine putting surfaces into a hole-riddled wasteland. Course operators might hate it more since they not only have to pay to have it done, it drives away business and revenue for weeks in its aftermath.

A decade ago, greens at practically every golf course were aerified twice a year. The pulling of dirt cores to lessen compaction and increase oxygen flow to the turf’s roots was accepted as a necessary evil, and while players and operators gulped, they didn’t blink.

Times have changed, largely because of economics.

Of the 35 public 18-hole courses listed biannually by The Sacramento Bee in spring and fall aerification schedules, 10 now punch only once a year. Operators who manage multiple courses alternate between spring and fall. Three courses – Auburn Valley, La Contenta and Lockeford Springs – aerify in the summer, which was unheard of previously.

“For hundreds of years, they’ve done it twice a year,” said Dominic Atlan, Castle Oaks’ director of golf for 21 years, exaggerating a bit but making his point.

Atlan estimates that it costs $30,000 to aerify counting labor, material and lost revenue. He said he’s broached the idea of skipping a session, but Castle Oaks’ owner believes twice-a-year aerification is the right thing to do for short- and long-term agronomic health.

And then there’s DarkHorse, where the greens haven’t had a core-pulling aerification in eight years. Superintendent Stephen McVey verticuts, knifes, top dresses, dusts and hand waters. He experiments with new technology that gives his greens some of the benefits of aerification without the invasiveness and lost play.

“If you can get sand in the profile, somehow, some way, you can survive,” McVey said.

Diluting organic matter is more important than relieving compaction, in his opinion, although he knows catastrophe lurks.

“If we were to aerify twice a year, we probably wouldn’t be open,” he said. “You have to be a little more outside the box and aggressive.”

And one more thing, he said.

“Right now, the greens are perfect.”

Et cetera

▪ LPGA Tour rookie Briana Mao (Folsom) missed the cut two weeks ago in her first LPGA event, the Women’s Australian Open. While it was a long way to travel for one tournament and done on short notice, she said the sponsor provided a $6,000 stipend that made it financially feasible. Mao will attempt to qualify for LPGA events in Phoenix and Carlsbad in March. The Lotte Championship in Hawaii in mid-April is her first guaranteed start.

▪ Stephen Griggs (Carmichael) won two matches to advance to this weekend’s round of 16 in the San Francisco City Championship.

▪ The fourth annual Sacramento State Invitational is Monday (36 holes) and Tuesday (18 holes) at Valley Hi. North Carolina’s Campbell University, at No. 56, is ranked highest among the 12 men’s teams. The event is free and the public is welcome.

▪ The Winchester Speedgolf Open is April 12 in Meadow Vista. Strokes plus minutes to finish equals your Speedgolf score. Go to and search for “Winchester Speedgolf” to sign up. Email the tournament director at with questions. The event is open to all golfers regardless of experience. There are professional and amateur divisions.

▪ Sacramentan David Adams, the marshal captain for the daunting par-5 third hole at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle in San Martin, is looking to fill out his volunteer marshal roster. Call Adams at 916-698-4257 or email him at to inquire. The Women’s Open is the week of July 4-10.

▪ Nick Watney (Dixon) is fighting a lower back injury that has kept him off the PGA Tour the past month.

▪ UC Davis has changed assistant men’s coaches. Out: Tom Johnson, who qualified for the Asian Tour. In: Professional Tyler Raber, a former Aggies player.

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

Spring aerification schedule

Eighteen-hole courses only. Dates subject to change, especially during inclement weather. Call courses to confirm. Tine sizes/invasiveness to greens vary. Most courses offer related discounts.

Course Dates

Ancil Hoffman None

Antelope Greens March 21-22

Apple Mountain April 4-5

Auburn Valley None

Bartley Cavanaugh April 11-12

Bing Maloney April 4-6

Castle Oaks March 28-29

Catta Verdera March 29-30

Cherry Island March 7

Cordova April 4-5

DarkHorse None

Davis March 14-18

Diamond Oaks April 4-5

Dry Creek None

Empire Ranch March 21-22

Haggin Oaks (Arcade front) March 16

Haggin Oaks (Arcade back) March 29

Haggin Oaks (MacKenzie) March 14-15

La Contenta None

Lincoln Hills (Hills) March 20

Lincoln Hills (Orchard) March 13

Lockeford Springs None

Mather None

Morgan Creek Completed Feb. 29

Plumas Lake March 7-8

The Ridge March 28-29

River Oaks Undecided

Teal Bend March 28-29

Timber Creek March 8-9

Turkey Creek April 6

Whitney Oaks March 21-22

Wildhawk March 28-29

Wildhorse None

Winchester Unknown

Woodcreek March 28-29

Yocha Dehe May 31

Steve Pajak