JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — I hate aerated greens. They are maddening and once they’re covered with loose dirt plugs, sand top-dressing and punch-holes, they’re not worth putting on for a month. It is golf’s version of being put on the disabled list.
Even worse, aerating happens at the worst possible time. Golf courses around Pittsburgh, where I live, typically aerate greens in the spring. That’s when I’m excited to start playing golf again after coming out of hibernation. They also aerate in September, just when the greens are finally in peak condition and I’m honing my game to a fine edge. Come on, man.
I like aerated greens like I like taxes, spam calls and rush-hour traffic. I would walk in a “Stop Aeration” protest march if somebody held one.
Well, there’s a better way. That’s why I visited GT AirInject headquarters to find out more about Air2G2, which I consider the most important piece of equipment in golf. I don’t want to own one. I can’t afford to own one, what with a price tag well north of $30,000.
But I absolutely want my favorite golf courses to own one. The Air2G2 aerifies greens better than the traditional method, does it with no mess and the greens are playable as soon as the machine gets the hell out of the way.
This sounds too good to be true, but this is simply a case of technology being applied to golf course maintenance. The irony is that those who would most benefit from it — golf course superintendents — are among the slowest to be convinced.
“Men are ego-driven and we’re hammering away at the traditional way they do things and they don’t like that,” said Todd Jones, GT AirInject general manager. “Some superintendents watch our video and don’t comprehend how this works, how the air fractures the ground below the surface without disturbing the surface. They’re used to seeing a big hole every six inches, we have a smaller hole 24 inches apart. With Air2G2, they don’t see enough holes.
“Well, we are the new kids on the block. We’ve been around for seven years and we’ve got 600 users worldwide. That can’t be all bad.”
The users include Major League Baseball teams in Boston, Houston, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco; National Football League teams in Jacksonville and Green Bay; assorted horse-racing tracks and polo fields; a certain iconic tennis stadium in England; and even some vineyards.
Why are sports teams using golf-course machinery? Because Air2G2, invented by GT AirInject president Glen Black, creates better, healthier turf.
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t want the Air2G2 on the property at first.
“It took us 45 minutes of wrangling,” Jones said. “I said, ‘Which one is your worst practice field? We’ll do it for free and if it doesn’t work, you’ll never hear from us again.’ After three applications, they called us back. The coaches commented how the players weren’t slipping and the turf wasn’t tearing away in practice. That changed their tune.”
The Air2G2, which is painted blue, looks like just another greens mower. Except instead of blades, it’s got three large circular pads beneath its midsection. They’re 2 feet apart and each pad has one injection point. The pads are pressed down on the turf, then compressed air is injected into the ground. It reaches as far as 12 inches underground in two blasts, breaking up compacted turf.
◼ Watch: The Air2G2 in action
In use, the Air2G2 moves slowly, injecting air, advancing 3 feet and injecting air again, and so on. It leaves behind only a few holes — approximately 2 percent as many as traditional aerating, Jones figures — and play may resume immediately.
So what exactly is the purpose of aeration? Jones provides a quick primer: “Turf roots have to have oxygen, just like we do. This machine doesn’t just inject air in, it forces carbon dioxide out. The carbon dioxide molecule is heavier than the oxygen molecule so if you just poke a hole, like traditional aerating does, that oxygen molecule is not going to displace the carbon dioxide molecule. It’ll just sit there. By injecting oxygen, it forces the carbon dioxide out to the surface where it needs to be and where plants can use it for photosynthesis. It’s more than just injecting air, it’s a gas exchange.
“I’ve had superintendents say, I don’t need to go down 12 inches, my roots only go three or four inches. Well, that’s because you’ve got a pan layer at four to six inches and your roots can’t get past it. Roots don’t grow in compaction, the grow in the crevasses our machine creates. The longer and healthier the roots, the healthier the turf. Compaction is the root cause of every turf problem--disease, bugs, poor health.”
Standing water is another issue where Air2G2 helps. By breaking up the subsurface compaction, it increases the ground’s porosity.
“If there’s standing water, it’s usually because there’s a pan layer four to six inches down,” Jones said. “Everybody has that same pan layer in golf because of the maintenance practices we’ve done for a hundred years that created that layer. This machine fractures down to 12 inches so the water can go where it’s supposed to go.”
So in other words, the Air2G2 isn’t just for greens, it’s for turf on every square inch of the golf course. Since it’s not invasive, it can be used daily without interrupting play. Most golf courses have to shut down for a few days to complete traditional aerating and then the greens aren’t worth playing on for a few weeks so it’s a big income hit for the owner.
“The mom-and-pop courses are the easiest ones to sell because they don’t want to lose revenue,” Jones said. “The big course are like, ‘We know more than you do.’ They’re the hardest ones to sell.”
The TPC Sawgrass, barely 30 minutes away from GT AirInject headquarters, is not a user.
That’s all right, I’m more interested in convincing my home course in Pittsburgh to start using Air2G2 and end the trauma of aeration. As soon as I finish this sentence, I’m calling them.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.