Punch in the gut

Only two things in life are certain, they say: death and taxes. You can add a third unpleasant inevitability when speaking of golf: aerification.

This is the time of year in Minnesota when the days are warm, the nights are cool, the grass is growing beautifully, the greens are putting as smoothly as they have all year — and your buzz-killing superintendent shuts down the course for three days to punch the greens. When the course reopens, thousands of little round plugs have been pulled out of the greens, leaving behind holes that are generally filled with a sand, seed and fertilizer mix. In other words, the balls that rolled so smoothly toward the hole last week are now bouncing around in a near-random pattern that leads to lots of jokes about playing “Plinko.”

It is an unfortunate coincidence that the best time of year to do core aeration in Minnesota is also the best time of the year to play golf. Most courses see a reduction in play after Labor Day, but the committed golfer looks forward to the fall every year for the colors, the mild temperatures and generally exceptional course conditions.

Not every course punches its greens in the fall, or on the same schedule as nearby courses. By getting on the phone and checking around, golfers can usually find a course that still has unspoiled greens. But the turf experts know that if putting surfaces aren’t punched at least once a year, if not twice, the earth compacts, the roots get starved for oxygen, water can’t penetrate, the good grass begins to wither and diseases begin to develop. Those perfect greens today wouldn’t be perfect in a year’s time, and the players who gripe about aerification would be griping even more loudly about the crappy grass on their once-perfect greens.

We all have to learn to accept the parts of life that are not pleasant, but inevitable. In golf, that means accepting a few weeks of bumpy greens in the fall. May this fall’s growing season be ideal, and may your greens heal faster than they’ve ever healed before.

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