Winter Hole Changing – Slow Down October 27, 2013 By Patrick O’Brien

Using rubber plug inserts to cap pre-cut holes that are not in play, Pinehurst Resort Course No. 1 has found a way to save labor and eliminate old hole plugs on dormant ultradwarf bermudagrass greens in the winter.

Nobody likes old hole plugs on putting greens. They are visually distracting and may alter the roll of the ball during a putt. During the winter months in the Southeast, ultradwarf bermudagrass growth slows down or enters dormancy and it takes more time for an old hole plug to heal. Frequent hole changing in the winter months can lead to large amounts of visible old hole plugs in late winter. Can anything be done?

Golf course superintendent Kyle Brown at the Pinehurst Resort has discovered an innovative solution that not only addresses this concern, but reduces the time spent changing holes on ultradwarf putting greens in the winter. The solution involves the use of three pre-cut holes with liners, i.e., cups, during the winter season at each putting green. Flagsticks are rotated on a regular basis to spread out golfer traffic and enhance golfer satisfaction through changing course setup.

Here is a brief summary of the key points on this idea for winter hole management on ultradwarf putting greens:

  1. Cut three or more holes on each putting green depending on the size of the green. Seek input from the Golf Committee or golf professional on the best locations.
  2. After inserting the hole liner into each hole, also place a plastic ring at the top of each hole. This ring will help maintain the integrity of the hole by stabilizing the plants and soil around it. Rings are available from several manufactures for less than $2.00 each.
  3. Cover holes not in use with a rubber plug available from most golf supply companies. These green rubber plugs blend into the green surface and the cost is less than $10 per plug.

Results at Pinehurst Course No. 1  

Last winter, Kyle Brown implemented this program at Pinehurst Course No. 1 and results met expectations.

  • Approximately 50 to 100 golfers per day played the course, or about 3,000 rounds per month during the winter resort season.
  • All hole locations held up well, and holes were only moved when wear patterns compromised the quality of the putting surface around the hole.
  • Mowing and brushing operations done periodically didn’t cause any damage to the recycled rubber plugs or the hole integrity of holes not in use.
  • Golfers have not complained about this program or the hole locations.
  • Golfers have not had issues with the rubber plugs or plastic rings.
  • Golfers complimented the staff on the lack of visible old hole plugs on the greens.

What is the ruling?  

For those wondering about what happens should your ball be on the putting green and the rubber plug is on the line of your putt, the Rules of Golf cover this situation. Since this a hole made by a greenkeeper, it meets the Definition of Ground Under Repair. You could choose to play your ball as it lies, but you also have the option to take relief. Rule 25-1b(iii) provides guidance on how to take relief if desired.  

25-1b (iii) On the Putting Green: If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it, without penalty, at the nearest point of relief that is not in a hazard or, if complete relief is impossible, at the nearest position to where it lay that affords maximum available relief from the condition, but not nearer the hole and not in a hazard. The nearest point of relief or maximum available relief may be off the putting green.  

To ensure the best cooperation from players, the Committee should let players know the reason the covers are being used. From a Rules perspective, the Committee should  make it clear to players that these holes are ground under repair and recommend that the hole covers should not be removed.

Stay tuned for more information on this idea as a future “How It’s Done” presentation is being produced and will soon appear in an upcoming issue of the Green Section Record.


Source: Patrick O'Brien ( and Chris Hartwiger (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff