From the outside, looking in, golfers see a superintendent rolling greens and assume increased speed is the end goal. Experienced maintenance professionals know there are myriad advantages, however.
Turfgrass health is the greatest reward, says Rob Golembiewski, green solutions specialist at Bayer CropScience. “The agronomic benefits of rolling greens can include reduced turf stress, disease suppression and a smoother surface which ultimately translates into a healthier putting green with increased green speeds,” he says. Specific disease suppression includes dollar spot, anthracnose and microdochium patch.
As for the relationship between rolling and greens speed, there are a number of agronomic practices – height of cut, mowing frequency, fertility, soil moisture, growth regulator use and verticutting – that influence how big a difference rolling will have on the speed of greens, Golembiewski says.
If a superintendent elected to alternate mowing one day and rolling the next, the green speeds would essentially remain the same as just mowing daily, he says. However, the end result would be a healthier putting green since mowing, which can be very stressful on a turfgrass plant, is reduced to an every-other-day practice.
“By mowing daily and rolling three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example), a superintendent might expect to see an increase in ball roll distance of one foot or more,” Golembiewski adds. “If mowing and rolling occur on a daily basis, green speeds could increase as much as two feet. In my experience, rolling daily and mowing four times of week can deliver equivalent green speeds as mowing and rolling daily but also provide a healthier putting surface.”
“We are able to roll on days we don’t mow and keep the same greens speed,” he adds. “Just taking one day off from the stresses of mowing will increase the health of the plant.”
A welcome bi-product to golfers is pace of play, of course. “By mowing alone and not rolling, we would achieve green speeds around 10 feet,” Pearsall says. “With the addition of rolling we can improve speeds by up to 4 feet, depending on which roller we use and the frequency of the rolling. Rolling gives us the ability to control the speed of the greens depending on the desired need of the event. It also gives us the ability to make every green uniform and consistent.”
At Salish Cliffs, an amenity of the Little Creek Casino Resort, they use two different rollers – one is light weight (Tru-Turf Roller 550 pounds) and one is heavier (Tranzformer by Salsco 2,600 pounds).
“There are many factors that dictate which roller we use – from weather, recent cultivating practices and green speeds we’re trying to achieve,” Pearsall says. “Both rollers are beneficial depending on the desired effect.”
Golembiewski cautions additional weight can do more harm than good. “There is an old thought that the use of heavier rollers will result in greater green speeds,” he says. “Research has clearly shown that lightweight rollers are just as effective as heavier rollers. It is not about the compaction of the surface, but rather the smoothness of the surface.”
Another risk, according to Pearsall, is rolling immediately after topdressing greens. If the operator is not careful, the abrasive sand may scuff or tear into the leaf blade when they start and stop the roller.
With rewards outweighing risks and technology improved, rolling has become a common agronomic practice on greens over the past decade. And it is starting to be implemented on fairways, as well.
“The challenge I see is there are many superintendents who implement rolling programs without an intended goal in mind,” Golembiewski says. “In other words, they might roll when they have some extra time or they roll Monday, Wednesday and Friday because that is what another course is doing. Superintendents should give the same consideration to rolling programs as they do any other agronomic programs.”
For Pearsall, the practice has increased in the short time the course has been open.
“At Salish Cliffs, we started out rolling on Fridays before the weekend to true up the greens,” he says. “Over the past three years since we’ve been open, we went to rolling almost every day during the growing season. This was done with the Tru-Turf Roller, which is considered a lightweight roller. The frequent light rolling was beneficial, but we found if we took a day off, we would lose some speed to our greens.”
That is why they purchased the heavier roller from Salsco. “We found we could use the Tranzformer every other day and we did not have the drop off in greens speed like we did with the Tru-Turf,” Pearsall says. “We use the Tranzformer for approaches and fairway landing zones, as well. We can do the fairway landing zone and green in almost the same amount of time we could before using the Tru-Turf for just the greens.”
Based on university research trials, to optimize plant health and green speed, in part, comes down to deciding what you are trying to accomplish on your course, Golembiewski says. “If the intent is to maintain existing green speeds where only mowing has been implemented in the past, my recommendation would be to alternate mowing and rolling,” he says. “If the intent is to maximize green speeds while limiting plant stress, my recommendation would be to roll daily and mow four times a week. With this program, the superintendent always has the option to add in additional mowings or lower the height of cut slightly to increase green speeds for tournaments, club championships, etc.”
Like anything, rolling greens isn’t without some degree of peril.
“The greatest risk that exists from rolling greens is the potential for wear on the collars where the roller stops and starts,” says Rob Golembiewski, green solutions specialist at Bayer CropScience. “This is especially the case when there is very little room on the edge of the green due to bunker placement or steep slopes. Some golf course superintendents have started using mats in these situations to reduce the potential for wear injury.”
The possibility of compaction keeps Salish Cliffs (Wash.) Golf Club superintendent Robert Pearsall on his toes.
“While rolling the greens alone is not too risky, there are some long-term risks that are inherent over a span of time,” he says. “The indirect effect of frequent rolling is air capacity and water permeability … compaction. Rolling every day with a heavy roller will compact the greens, making them more susceptible to a decline in turf quality, especially during the stressful months of summer. We counteract this by using our PlanetAir slicer every other week. The slicer is used to help reduce compaction by creating more pore space in the rootzone. If we have rain coming, we will slice the greens the day before to allow for infiltration.”
Rob Thomas is a Cleveland-based writer and frequent GCI contributor.