Commitment and Patience: Topdressing

by Zach Reineking

As the days continue to count down towards the 2017 U.S. Open, the Turfgrass Department is often asked, “What are you doing to prepare for the Open?” A simple question, but one that could have easily been asked six years ago when Erin Hills was first awarded the opportunity to host the world’s best golfers. After that announcement in June 2010, the Turfgrass Department established several priorities on how to improve the conditioning at Erin Hills. One of these priorities was to develop an aggressive fairway topdressing program.

Fairway topdressing is an agronomic practice where sand is evenly distributed across all 40 acres of fairway turf. The challenge is to apply an adequate quantity that improves turf conditions without impacting guest play or suffocating turfgrass. The solution was a metered program that required commitment and patience.

Starting in fall of 2010, four applications of topdressing were made annually after the course closed for the season. The same practice was continued every spring prior to the first guest playing Erin Hills. Each application measured only approximately 0.0625 inches in depth; four applications would provide 0.25 inches of topdressing. At first blush, this does not seem to be a significant quantity of sand. However, to cover 40 acres of fairways with 0.25 inches of sand required 1815 tons of sand. That is the equivalent of 3,630,000 lbs. or 80 quad axle dump trucks every spring and fall. You can now understand why this program requires commitment.

The second requirement was patience, and after six years of topdressing the fairways have accumulated three inches of sand – so much sand that at the end of the 2016 season all fairway irrigation heads were adjusted and raised to match the surrounding turf. The results of this program have provided smooth, firm playing conditions while providing a better growing medium than the native clay soils that exist at Erin Hills.

The 2016 season has been filled with projects and excitement as the Turfgrass Department prepares for the world stage. However, much of the preparation for the U.S. Open began several years ago, and it is wonderful to witness the results of the dedication that the Turfgrass Department has committed to Wisconsin’s first U.S. Open.

Zach Reineking