View of 16 green and fairway after a recent mowing. Photo: Lupe Orozco, Poppy Hills Head Superintendent

April 23, 2020


While golf is temporarily suspended at Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge amidst the ongoing COVID-19 situation, head golf course superintendents Lupe Orozco (Poppy Hills) and John Ball (Poppy Ridge) are busy at work ensuring key course areas, most importantly the greens, are maintained for when operations resume. During the Shelter in Place Order, our grounds staff at both properties are carefully conducting essential maintenance with modified crews, while adhering to social distancing practices. For periods of the day, our teams are present to work on selected projects and also provide broad security oversight for the properties. Selected work activities, including recent aerification procedures are detailed below as part of our Golf Course Maintenance blog series.

Greens Aerification

After learning about the temporary closure, several of our regular customers strongly encouraged us to complete our seasonal greens aerification during this time when they are unable to play the course. It was a great suggestion! While putting on disrupted greens is never preferred, the core aerification process is essential for the enduring condition and health of putting surfaces on a long-term basis. These larger, full-scale procedures are supplemented with minuscule needle tine procedures at certain times, which are hardly noticeable and routinely recover in less than a week. We are also pleased to report full core aerification was completed for the putting surfaces at both courses during portions of March and April, and with a little support from the weather, the course should be fully recovered when golf rounds resume. Get ready for a summer of enjoyable putting!


What is it?

The full greens aerification process involves pulling solid cores from the putting surfaces. These holes can vary in size, depth and width, depending on the equipment used and the desired result for that particular process. When full cores are pulled, they are swept away from the surfaces, and the holes are then treated with an application of sand topdressing. Conversely, the minimally invasive needle tine process simply punches tiny needles into the green surface without the removal of material from the green sub-base. Both procedures serve to promote turf health and uniform density throughout the surfaces.


Why is it done?

There are a variety of benefits to aerification, however, the primary reasons are to allow oxygen into the areas and to remove excess organic material known as “thatch.” As natural plant growth takes place, organic matter accumulates from the decaying root system and grass stems. This accumulation holds moisture underneath the surface “like a sponge,” resulting in greens with too much water near the plant cover. If aerification is not conducted periodically, thatch builds up, and the greens can become highly susceptible to disease, thus resulting in plant failure.


Core aerification of the greens allows water to permeate deeper into the soil, minimizing the possibility for disease to occur. Additional benefits include the promotion of stronger root systems that better tolerate foot traffic, allowing for smoother and firmer putting surfaces all year long.


What equipment is used?

A significant amount of equipment is necessary to complete core aerification. The core aerification process begins with machines called aerators that pull cores from the greens using hollow tines. Once cores have been pulled from the entirety of a green, a machine called a core harvester attached to a utility vehicle is used to remove the loose cores from the surface of the green. The core harvester “vacuums” the cores into the machine which are then broken up and deposited into the cargo bed of the machine. The maintenance crew then uses a combination of rakes, shovels, and backpack blowers to remove all debris from the green and green surrounds. Once a green is completely free of cores and debris, a walking fertilizer spreader is used to fertilize the entire green. A tractor dump truck combination is used to haul sand to a location adjacent to the green. The dump truck is used to load sand into a machine called a topdresser. The topdresser spreads a layer of sand across the entire surface of the green. Next, a steel drag mat is connected to a utility vehicle which is driven in a circular pattern on the green to evenly distribute sand across the entire surface of the green. A groomer brush is attached to a utility vehicle that is driven in circular patterns on the green to work the sand into the holes created by the removal of the cores. Finally, the irrigation system is used to irrigate the green.


How long does it take?

Aerification for an 18-hole golf course typically takes two days of maintenance effort and can vary according to the size and surface composition of the greens. Additional time may be required for topdressing applications, which also vary according to the procedure undertaken.


What time of year is it done? What is the frequency?

Two core aerifications are typically completed at each property (Poppy Hills in the spring and fall seasons, Poppy Ridge in the spring and summer seasons) and are scheduled to minimize disruption to the golfers as much as possible. Additional needle tine procedures are conducted at various times when our golf course superintendents deem necessary and have little effect on the playing conditions or experience.


How many people on the crew are involved?

With 21 greens at Poppy Hills and 31 at Poppy Ridge, nearly all maintenance staff members participate during a typical full core aerification process.


Any different processes involved during limited operations?

While modified crew operations have been the prevailing norm during our temporary closure, full maintenance crew teams were on hand to complete the core aerification process, and with play suspended during the closure, the crews were able to work without interruption to complete the aerification process in a timely and efficient manner.


April 7, 2020


While golf is temporarily on pause at Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge amidst the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, head superintendents Lupe Orozco (Poppy Hills) and John Ball (Poppy Ridge) are hard at work ensuring the courses are maintained for when we are able to reopen. With the shelter in place order, our grounds staff are working to carefully provide minimum, basic maintenance with limited crews and shorter shifts, while adhering to social distancing practices. During portions of the day, a crew is present to work on essential tasks and provide safety for the course. It is gratifying to highlight some of the great work they’re doing to prepare the golf courses for when we are able to reopen. We can’t wait to get back to playing golf and helping customers enjoy the game more and hope you are looking forward to that day as much as we are.

Closing a golf course is not as simple as it might appear. With Poppy Hills first opening in 1986, and Poppy Ridge in 1996, the only time either course has closed for a significant period was for the 2014 redesign at Poppy Hills. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the initial business closures and shelter in place orders for Monterey County and Alameda County, and later throughout California, the immediate focus turned to making sure our staff was safe and the golf courses were secure. Following California State and Monterey County guidelines, the overwhelming majority of our staff began working from home, with the grounds crews at each course split into two smaller teams to alternate daily upkeep. All of our high touch point golf course accessories, such as pins, bunker rakes, garbage cans and tee markers, were collected and secured. Our superintendents were then able to prioritize which daily projects need to be completed with the goal of being able to reopen efficiently while maintaining our turf conditions.

Regarding reopening, we are hopeful it will be sooner than later, but we do not know what the specific date will be just yet. We will continue to follow the guidance of our county and state authorities for determining when we can resume play. In the meantime, in future posts we will keep you updated on the ongoing maintenance taking place to make sure the course is ready for you. Until then, we will be daydreaming about playing golf on some healthy turfed areas.

Bunker rakes gathered for storage. Photo: John Ball, Head Superintendent Poppy Ridge