Golf is back – well, almost. We are now able to tee it up in all 50 states, assuming you can find an open tee time, and it looks like it won’t be long before we will be watching professional golf on TV. I’m talking live sports, not some rewind. While there has been plenty to miss during the coronavirus pandemic, here are nine golf course practices that I hope don’t come back for everyday play:
For most golf courses, there is no need to have a 5- to 6-foot-wide strip of marginally lower rough surrounding each fairway. The idea of establishing an intermediate rough was developed specifically for professional tournaments where the difference in height between the fairways and rough was substantial. It was never intended for daily golf course setup and often requires significant inputs and specialized mowing equipment. Eliminating intermediate rough provides an opportunity to reallocate labor and other resources to other areas of the course which have greater impact on playability. For more information on the negative impacts of this unnecessary maintenance practice, read the USGA article “A Waste of Time and Resources.”
Walk mowing greens exclusively
The idea that walk-behind greens mowers are going to produce a better quality of cut is more of a perception than a reality. Modern triplex mowers can deliver excellent results that are virtually indistinguishable from the mowing quality of walk-behind mowers. With many golf courses struggling to find enough workers, productivity is paramount. Triplex mowers can handle a greater workload and provide significant labor savings. For example, an 18-hole golf course saved 40 labor hours per week when they switched from mowing greens with four walk-behind units to two triplexes.
Elaborate mowing patterns
Mowing is the most fundamental maintenance practice carried out on a golf course and it consumes the most labor hours. The manner in which mowing occurs can affect operational efficiency. Ideally, operators should follow a route that requires minimal stopping and turning. This is important for reducing the time it takes to mow and helps to minimize potential turf injury that can occur when machines are maneuvered. The primary goal of mowing should not be to produce elaborate patterns of light and dark turf. With that said, it is still important to alternate mowing directions frequently to encourage upright grass growth and limit grain concerns, as described in the USGA article “Defining Definition.”
Unnatural “naturalized” areas
It has been great to see a number of golf courses that have recently established naturalized rough in underutilized parts of their property. Naturalized areas can provide numerous environmental benefits while also helping to reduce maintenance costs. However, as expectations for the playability and presentation of these areas increases, so do the maintenance costs. Some golfers expect naturalized areas to be uniform and orderly while others appreciate a diversity of plants and wild appearance. The frequent mowing, mechanical thinning, and numerous herbicide and insecticide treatments required to deliver “clean” naturalized areas are costly. Others prefer a more sustainable management regime where these areas are mowed or burned once per year and herbicides are only applied via spot treatment. The latter seems much more sensible in areas that are typically out of play. I would advocate for naturalized over manicured.
I have yet to hear any examples of how the removal of bunker rakes has ruined a golfer’s round. Perhaps we really do not need three or more rakes surrounding every bunker. Lightly smoothing depressions in the sand with one’s foot seems to be working just fine. Any uneven footprints that remain can then be attended to the next morning by the maintenance team. Besides, I think many would agree that bunker expectations have gotten out of hand lately. Famous golf course architect C.B. Macdonald made the point clearly back in the early 20th century: “I have seen a number of traps and bunkers that afforded better lies and easier strokes than the fairway. This, of course, is ridiculous.”
Beyond the immediate concern of reducing touchpoints during a round, do we really need a ball washer on every hole? These amenities are seldom used and could easily be replaced by a damp towel carried by the golfer. The numerous hours spent filling, cleaning, repairing, painting, and string trimming around ball washers are better served improving the putting greens and fairways. Getting rid of ball washers can also streamline mowing and create a less-cluttered appearance.
Painting the hole
A practice that was once limited to golf courses hosting a televised tournament has now become a status symbol at many golf courses. This extra step adds time to the course setup process and typically requires a new can of paint every few days. Assuming golfers are not concerned about being able to see someone putt out from 100 feet away, there is really no need to paint the edge of the holes with white paint. This is particularly true given that no one is removing, let alone touching, the flagstick these days. Plus, the option within the Rules of Golf to keep the flagstick in while putting further lessens the need to paint the hole for visibility.
Uniformly emerald green turf
Give me firm surfaces and extra ball roll over lush turf and the occasional plugged lie any day. Keeping golf courses on the drier side is great for playability. Golf is so much more interesting when the ball bounces and rolls across the surface. It really makes you appreciate even the most subtle surface contours and allows for more creativity with shot selection. There are also numerous environmental benefits and cost savings that can be realized when water conservation is prioritized over appearance.
Short tee time intervals
There are few things more frustrating than having to continuously wait for the group in front of you when golfing. One of the most effective ways golf course operators can prevent such backups is to implement appropriate tee time intervals. Many are witnessing firsthand the benefits that longer tee time spacing can have. This is something the USGA has been researching for the past several years and encouraging facilities to embrace. Hopefully, the days of seven- and eight-minute tee time intervals are a thing of the past.