Last week I received the latest soil tests from Keya Golf Club, where Andrew McDaniel is the superintendent. I'm sharing the organic matter results from the greens, because I think they will be of general interest. This chart shows the soil organic matter % on the greens for samples taken in early 2013, 2014, 2015, and now 2016.
Now for a bit of a tangent, and then back to the work that's been done at Keya since 2013. It would seem that not core aerifying, and not topdressing all the time, would be considered alternative maintenance. Another way to look at it is that the management of soil organic matter -- the amount of work required in that regard -- will be proportional to the growth of the grass.
I remember a conversation I had once during break time at a seminar in New Delhi. "Tifeagle and other ultradwarf bermudagrass varieties accumulate too much thatch," someone told me, "and will require almost constant and aggressive verticutting to keep it under control." I disagreed, pointing out that the amount of thatch (organic matter) control required will be related to how much the grass grows. "Tifeagle in Siberia won't produce any thatch at all," I said.
As an example, this is Zoysia japonica in late July in Yorkshire, surrounded by cool-season grasses. The zoysia is not producing much organic matter at all, and there's no need to verticut or topdress or core.
Another example: this is Penncross in Thailand. It germinates, but doesn't require mowing. If you can keep it alive, you certainly don't have to worry about organic matter management.
Rather than prescriptive recommendations of surface area to be removed by coring (I've recommended this in the past) or the quantities of sand that should be applied as topdressing (I've also recommended this in the past), I now think it is more reasonable to consider the growth rate of the grass, and to manage the organic matter as required based on the growth rate.
Ideally, there will be no coring, minimal verticutting, and minimal topdressing. That's easier, and it causes less disruption to the playing surface. Such an approach may not be possible, but I prefer to have my ideal as great surfaces all the time, with minimal disruption, compared to the alternative ideal of great surfaces except when coring to remove x % of the surface area each year while applying a total of y mm of sand per year.
Back from that tangent to the greens at Keya, where the organic matter on greens has been going down since 2013.
If one does a regression on these data, for each day that passes, the organic matter in the top 10 cm of the soil has gone down by 0.005 g per kg. In 365 days, the reduction is about 1.8 g/kg.
Here's where the data support an anecdote. The anecdote is, managing the growth rate allows one to minimize or eliminate coring.
The N rate on these greens in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, has been 14.6, 9.5, and 10.6 g/m2. That is still enough to produce a dense korai turf (manilagrass or Zoysia matrella).
Coring and solid-tine aerification has been minimal and has decreased while the greens have only improved. 12 mm core in May 2013, 12 mm solid in July 2013, 12 mm core in June 2014, and 13 mm solid cross tine in July 2015. That's not much, and the organic matter is going down.
Greens were verticut 3 times in 2013, 3 times in 2014,and 4 times in 2015.
Topdressing amounts have been 8 mm in 2013, 4.6 mm in 2014, and 3.8 mm in 2015.
You see the trend? Core aerification is done infrequently, sand topdressing is applied less and less, N fertilizer is applied at a reasonable rate, and the soil organic matter goes down. It's a viciously good cycle.