Whether you’re a fan of golf or not, you have to recognize that the landscaping of golf courses is some of the best in the world. From the finely cut grass on the fairway to the perfectly smooth greens, keeping golf courses well groomed is no easy task.
Focusing in on one of the most famous golf courses in the world, Augusta National Golf Course, home of the Master’s golf tournament, we’re met with one of the most stunning landscapes in all of golf. While this golf course may appear to be a natural beauty, if you dig deep under the surface, you’ll find some extensive interesting engineering.
Underneath the greens at Augusta National is an array of pipes, drains, and mechanical blowers that work to keep the playability of these surfaces perfect. In order to understand why Augusta National has a series of pipes, mechanical devices, and sensors under their greens, first we need to understand the problems that surround golf landscaping.
How any given golf course plays depends heavily on the weather, time of day, and how good of a landscaping team the course has. The maintenance required to keep courses in tip-top shape like Augusta National is simply incredible. However, these landscapers don’t have control over the weather. In heavy rains, greens and fairways can get oversaturated and severely hamper play. On the other hand, high dry heat can make it hard for greens to grow and make the greenskeeper’s job even harder. Regulating and protecting against all of these factors isn’t easy – which is why the best courses in the world employ something called SubAir Systems.
These SubAir Systems work to do two main things: provide drainage and aeration for a green. They consist of a blower/vacuum machine, a series of pipes and valves, and sensors under the green. The blower motor is stored in a below-ground vault on the high side of the green that has a vent above the surface. This vent is the only portion of the system that is visible from the surface. There’s also a control system that can be put in place near the green or in a centralized location. Sensors help detect conditions in certain locations, the blowers help create air flow, and the pipes and valves help control and direct the air or water flow below the surface.
The system can work in two ways: vacuum or pressure mode.
In vacuum mode, when water starts accumulating on the surface of the green, the vacuum motor turns on, sucking air and water down from the surface of the green into the drainage pipes under the surface. The underground network of drains is typically set up with a minor slope to allow for water to fall down towards the outfall of the green’s drain and the air to naturally travel back up to where the vacuum motor is.
In pressure mode, the system pushes air back through the drains and up and through the green’s surface. This allows for aeration of the soil as well as temperature control without any disruption of the play surface.
In both methods of operation, these systems are meant as a moisture content management system for the soil and ultimately the green surface. This engineering essentially turns a natural organic surface such as a green into a finely tunable control field.
In the case of Augusta National, the greens weren’t originally built with these blower/vacuum drainage systems in place. In 2001, the management at the course began slowly digging up greens, installing the system of pipes, and then rescaping the greens after completion. This system was ultimately worth it as it gave the course the ability to guarantee consistent playability both year round and during arguably the most important week of Golf in the world – The Masters.
Augusta National and courses alike aren’t the only places that benefit from this subsurface engineering. Sports teams like the New England Patriots, the San Fransisco Giants, and the Philadelphia Phillies utilize the technology in their fields.
In use cases outside of golf, the systems are used to provide consistent traction and give to natural grass, keeping it on par with fake turf fields. This gives sporting arenas the ability to maintain natural turf in a highly controlled and predictable manner.
All in all, green and turf management for modern sporting fields now has a highly efficient and technical tool to make the processes even easier.