Explaining Punched Greens in Golf

The Benefits of 'Punching' a Course's Putting Greens

Aeration plugs left behind after a putting green was punched.
Sometimes after punching of greens, aeration plugs are temporarily left behind to be cleaned up by staff.

Cappi Thompson/Moment Open/Getty Images


Golf courses are often judged based on how they look and are designed, but just below the surface of high-quality putting greens is a secret to maintaining the rich, lush grass: aeration.

Greens that have been aerated are known as punched greens because the aeration process involves using a machine that punches down into the putting surface and pulls up a small core of the earth, leaving behind a small hole about a quarter-inch to a half-inch across. The process helps circulate air down to the grassroots, keeping it full and healthy all season long. (The plugs or cores are typically vacuumed up as part of the process but sometimes, as in the photo above, temporarily left behind to be cleaned up once the coring in complete.)

Greens that have just been punched will have hundreds of these small holes, typically spaced from one to two inches apart. Such greens are often referred to as "punched greens," and while many golfers can and do play on punched greens, some golfers prefer to avoid the putting surface during the punching period.

How Aeration Works for Putting Greens

What's the point of punching the greens? The short answer is that aerification enriches the soil and allows the grass to "breathe," which makes for lusher, thicker putting greens that can be trimmed down perfectly to provide a smooth surface for short-range putts.

Punching the green (also called "coring" the green) counters the tendency of the soil on putting greens to compact over time and circulates air down into the soil and to the grassroots, helping keep the turfgrass healthy. Punching the greens, therefore, is a maintenance practice at golf courses.

Before each tournament on the PGA Tour, the putting greens must be punched well in advance to ensure full growth and ample time for the maintenance crews to trim the fresh, healthy grass down to regulation height and for the rough, bumpy holes to naturally fill in.

Do You Have to Putt on Punched Greens?

Those little holes can make for a bumpy, bouncy putting surface until the green heals, so punched greens are not popular with golfers, even though the process is beneficial to the golf course.

Some golf courses offer discounts to golfers in a week or two following the punching of greens while the grass is still healing and maintenance crews haven't yet smoothed the surface of the putting green. Other times, though, local clubs may use temporary greens and have golfers play their approach shots to those instead. (In such cases, a temporary green is likely to be an area in front of or to the side of the regular green that has been mowed down to putting surface height.) 

There are many different names used for punched greens, so if you are venturing to a new area and listening for announcements about the conditions of the course, you should look out for the phrases aerated greens, aerified greens, cored greens and plugged greens.