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Beneath the Surface: New Recommendations for Putting Greens

By George Waters, USGA Green Section

| Feb 15, 2018 | Liberty Corner, N.J.

The 2018 version of the USGA's putting green construction recommendations will help golf courses deliver consistent, high-quality playing conditions.

As golfers, we don’t spend much time thinking about what is beneath the surface of a putting green as we line up a key putt. However, the way a putting green is built has a huge impact on the playing conditions we experience during our round.

Since 1960, the USGA has provided the golf industry with detailed recommendations for putting green construction based on extensive scientific research and field testing. These recommendations were first established to help golf courses manage the increased demands placed on putting greens as the game was growing in popularity. Today, the USGA recommendations are used around the world and have guided the construction of thousands of putting greens.

“We frequently use the USGA greens construction methodology on our new courses, and are increasingly using it in our full-scale restoration projects,” said Gil Hanse, a golf course architect whose firm has more than 50 designs and restorations to its credit, including the golf course for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the recent restoration of the putting greens at Winged Foot Golf Club, in Mamaroneck, N.Y., which will host its sixth U.S. Open in 2020. “We have found that the USGA method provides the most consistent results and performance across any climate or region.”

In February 2018, the USGA is publishing an updated version of its putting green construction recommendations after a year-long review process that included USGA agronomists, university scientists, testing laboratories, golf course architects, builders and superintendents. This is the fifth revision of the recommendations and the first since 2004.

Most golfers have probably played on USGA greens many times. But what exactly is a “USGA green” and how does it affect your round of golf?

A USGA green features a layered design that includes underground drainage pipes, a 4-inch layer of drainage gravel and a 12-inch layer of sand-based rootzone mix. The materials used to build a USGA green are carefully selected to withstand golfer and maintenance traffic, drain rapidly and provide an excellent growing environment for putting green turf. In many cases, USGA agronomists assist with the process of material and grass selection to ensure the best results.

The end goal of the layered design is to deliver consistent, high-quality playing conditions. USGA greens regain normal playability quickly after a rainstorm because excess water moves rapidly through the sand and gravel and is carried away by the network of drainage pipes located beneath the gravel.

USGA greens also encourage deep-rooted turf that can provide smooth, firm playing conditions. Rapid drainage and deeper roots also make turf less vulnerable to disease and other issues. Healthier turf means more time enjoying quality playing conditions.

“We are excited to see that the new recommendations are geared toward staying current with new technologies and construction methods, all with an eye toward consistent excellence,” said Hanse.

The USGA has invested millions of dollars in scientific research to develop and continually update its putting green construction recommendations. As a result, these recommendations have remained the industry standard for nearly 60 years. The 2018 version will serve the golf industry around the world for years to come.

George Waters is a manager of Green Section education for the USGA. Email him at

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