When did the visual aspects of the golf course become so important at the expense of playability to the average golfer?  We routinely see go" />

Aesthetics Should Not Trump Playability

By Darin S. Bevard, USGA
October 12, 2011

A golf course needs to be attractive to the golfers, but there is a difference between off-color or dormant grass and dead grass.


When did the visual aspects of the golf course become so important at the expense of playability to the average golfer?  We routinely see golf courses that provide superb playability:  firm, fast conditions and an overall attractive appearance under stressful weather conditions.  Yet many golfers seem to focus on small areas of wear or off-color grass that are present on most courses during the heat of the summer.  They choose to ignore the many positives that a given golf experience provides and emphasize the bad.  This raises the question of whether aesthetics have become more important than playability in the daily maintenance of the golf course. 

The golf course needs to be attractive to the golfers, but there is a difference between off-color or dormant grass and dead grass. This is a very important distinction. Dead grass is not good for anybody. The increased emphasis on firm and fast has created a lot of debate, and many golf courses have embraced this concept. Unfortunately, the exact appearance of the golf course as it relates to providing firm conditioning varies from region to region and even golf course to golf course. Most people seem to agree this is a good idea, especially at some other golf course. Far fewer people agree on how it should manifest itself at their golf course. 

Some golf courses have the resources to maintain firm, fast conditions and a canvas of green, but most cannot. You need to choose one or the other. Quite simply, it costs more money to maintain firm, fast and green during the heat of the summer.  Labor resources for hand watering fairways are needed because overhead irrigation systems cannot account for small variances in ground contours or soil conditions that lead to dry spots and brown grass, especially in vast fairway acreages.  

Thus, a decision must be made by course officials:  maintain to keep everything green in the interest of aesthetics, or apply only enough water, fertilizer and pesticides to keep the vast majority of the grass green, but accept varying shades of green from time to time in small areas. For medium and lower budget golf courses, it is difficult to satisfy the golfers who think aesthetics are most important and the golfers who believe playability is most important. The golf course superintendent is caught in the middle, and neither camp is satisfied with the results when you try to ride the fence. Course officials must commit to one school of thought, and support the management strategies that are needed to be successful. 

Would you rather tee off and have the ball roll an extra 15 to 20 yards or hit the fairway and stop in 3 yards or less?  If your choice is to accept some off-color turf here and there, you probably can have your extra roll on the fairway. If you think wall to wall green grass is more important than playability, expect 3 yards or less. If some areas of a green are off color, but ball roll is exceptional, this would seem to be a reasonable trade-off. 

The bottom line is, in some respects, we can have our cake and eat it too, but it is only possible if the golfer looks at the overall appearance of the golf course and does not focus on minor blemishes. The expense of correcting these minor blemishes is very high for the actual return on investment in terms of labor, water and pesticides. The focus on playability rather than pure aesthetics is not an excuse for bad management or lack of detail.  Rather, it allows for some balance in the way that fine turf areas are managed with the understanding that the desire is for the golf course to have better playability and an overall attractive appearance, but not necessarily perfect green color.  There are different shades of green, and aesthetics should not trump playability. 

Darin S. Bevard is a senior agronomist in the Mid-Atlantic Region.   

Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website, www.usopen.com, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit http://www.usopen.com/IBM

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit http://www.lexus.com/

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit www.americanexpress.com/entertainment

AmEx image