COURSE CARE
Does The Handicap System "Handicap" Turfgrass? February 27, 2015

Does The Handicap System "Handicap" Turfgrass?

By Larry Gilhuly, Northwest Director
April 30, 2009

How many times have you heard the mantra that fast greens are the best, and that is the way all putting surfaces should be maintained? Usually, who is the most vocal group on this subject and carries the most weight? If you guessed low single-digit players, you guessed right.

Now, guess how many male players, carrying a USGA handicap last year, fell into the under-5 handicap category? If you guessed less than 5%, you are right again, as only 4.81% fall into this range. On the female side, less than 5% (4.43%) are a 12 handicap or less.

The next question is more difficult - why do so many golf courses set-up their playing conditions for such a small minority of the best players? Good luck with that one, as the reality of golf is that the vast majority of players (66%) fall in the 8-21 handicap range for males, while the majority of females (66%) are between a 19-37 handicap. The real eye-opener for the women is that nearly 14% of all female players with USGA handicaps have more than a 40 handicap! And we are led to believe that the vast majority of all players really want, need, and like 11' green speeds on sloped greens.

The purpose of this article is not to claim foul on how the course is set-up for a very small, vocal minority. More to the point, the programs to achieve these kinds of speeds require placing putting green turf in a far more stressful condition, increasing the chance of turf loss during times of summer or winter stress. Although growth regulators, rolling, vertical mowing, sand topdressing, tree removal, careful irrigation, light and frequent fertilization, and aeration are all aimed at assisting in the growth of healthy turf, mowing height usually is the method used to fulfill the need for speed . Resist this temptation, as you are definitely "handicapping" your turf by yielding to those with lower handicaps.

Source: Larry Gilhuly, lgilhuly@usga.org