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Key Takeaways

  • Green surrounds are one of the most heavily used parts of a golf course and they face unique maintenance challenges.
  • Concentrated traffic, tight spaces and tree issues are some of the most common reasons why green surrounds struggle.
  • Specialized equipment may be required to successfully manage green surrounds depending on design features and available labor.
  • Improving the condition of green surrounds requires an increase in resources or prioritizing this area over other rough areas.

Most golfers miss a fair number of greens during each round, which makes the green surrounds a very important part of the course. Green surrounds can also be a major source of frustration for golfers and superintendents alike because it can be so difficult to maintain quality turf in these high-traffic, high-visibility areas. Producing consistent lies in the rough throughout an entire course is virtually impossible, but most agree there should be healthy, weed-free grass in the green surrounds. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Green surrounds face unique challenges that can result in disappointing conditions, even with significant maintenance efforts. Creating a management plan tailored to the specific needs of the rough in the green surrounds is an important step toward improving the performance and reliability of turf in this area. Too many courses treat the rough in the green surrounds like rough in other areas, but the intensity of play and traffic in these areas necessitates a specialized program.

The term “green surround” isn’t found in turfgrass textbooks or the Rules of Golf, so for the purposes of this article the green surround is defined as rough around the greens. Collars, approaches and other closely mown areas around greens all require different management inputs and techniques than rough areas, so they are excluded from this article.

Developing a Management Plan for Green Surrounds

A management plan for green surrounds should include strategies that address traffic issues, mowing practices, fertility, pest control, irrigation and drainage. Each of these issues has a significant impact on turf quality in the surrounds. Water management for surrounds areas is a complex subject with too many variables to cover in this article. Shade and tree root competition are often underlying factors that impact turf health in the surrounds, but these issues are best incorporated into a separate tree management plan. Therefore, this article will focus on traffic management, mowing practices, fertility, pest control and establishing grasses that are better suited to surrounds areas.

Traffic Management

Concentrated traffic is a primary reason why green surrounds struggle. When the architectural features around a green severely limit the entry and exit points to just one or two locations, even a small number of rounds and routine maintenance traffic can be destructive to turf in those areas. Traffic management is even more important around greens if a course receives a lot of play when turf is growing slowly or dormant.

Each green should have multiple entry and exit points that are wide enough to adequately disperse traffic. The management team then needs to focus on regularly shifting traffic patterns around to limit wear and tear. This can be done with ropes and stakes or signage in the surrounds area, or by redirecting cart and pedestrian traffic approaching from the fairway. Keep in mind that traffic-control measures can create a cluttered appearance and will be a nuisance for mowers so they should be used as sparingly as possible. Site-specific aeration in high-traffic areas also helps to relieve some of the negative impacts that come with concentrated traffic.

"When the architectural features around a green severely limit the entry and exit points to just one or two locations, even a small number of rounds and routine maintenance traffic can be destructive to turf in those areas."

Rerouting cart paths to maximize entry and exit options is another way to spread traffic. In severe cases it may be necessary to adjust bunkers, slopes or mounds to create more entry and exit locations. If the architectural features cannot be adjusted, budget for additional maintenance and occasional sodding if the turf becomes severely worn down. Using tools like the USGA GPS Service to better understand golfer and maintenance traffic patterns can help pinpoint areas where concentrated traffic is causing problems at your course.

Maintenance vehicle traffic is inevitable around greens, so be sure to remind the staff to alter their routes as much as possible and to park their equipment a reasonable distance away from the green. Maintenance traffic can add up quickly, especially when you consider the frequency of tasks like checking greens for soil moisture during the season. Places where maintenance equipment and vehicles drive or park on a regular basis often show signs of wear and turf issues are common where fairway or approach mowers make their turns while mowing. Being proactive and rotating mowing and turning patterns will help turf in the surrounds and the transition zone between the fairway and approach. Greens mowers turning on the surrounds and collars also can lead to issues, so train employees to make wide turns or use turning boards where necessary.


When developing a plan for mowing surrounds, start by training the staff on exactly where the large rough mowers stop near the greens and where the smaller surrounds mowers start. Too often, an operator of a large rough mower gets too close to a green surround and ends up scalping the turf or creating tire damage that can take weeks to heal. Other common causes of mower damage on the surrounds include:

  • Cumulative wear from equipment tires running over the same pattern during the season
  • Operators making sharp turns, which can be especially damaging on slopes
  • Mowing while the turf is too wet or under environmental stress
  • Inappropriate mowing frequency based on the growth rate, which leads to scalping or wear injury
  • Operating the equipment too quickly

The turf damage from these issues usually doesn’t show up immediately, which is why it can be easily misidentified. Rotating the mowing pattern on a regular basis, avoiding sharp turns and going slowly will make a big difference in the performance of the surrounds. It can be easy for the operator to feel inclined to speed up when they’re trying to avoid interfering with play, so be sure to stress the importance of mowing slowly throughout the season.

It can be hard to rotate the mowing direction on the surrounds because a side-discharge chute could blow clippings onto the green or into bunkers. To address this issue, mounting a backpack blower to the surrounds mower will make it easy for the operator to blow clippings off the green if necessary. Mowers are available with decks that can shift side-to-side to reduce detail work and problems associated with tire tracks running over the same area all season, so be sure to use this feature if your mowers have it. If your mower has decks that can be lifted individually, use all the mower decks on the first pass around the green one week, and the next week have the operator mow the first pass with one of the decks in the up position. This technique should shift the tire traffic pattern with minimal impact to mowing efficiency.

If turf issues or thinning develops, scale back on the size of the mowers used on the surrounds. Using push mowers is an effective way to reduce equipment stress, but it’s time consuming and labor intensive. Most courses don’t have the resources needed to use push mowers exclusively for their surrounds, but it could be a good short-term strategy until the turf can tolerate larger equipment. Mowing the first few feet of rough around the green with a push mower could be a good temporary option as well. Reducing the mowing frequency or raising the mowing height on steep slopes or bunker banks can also reduce mowing stress. If you’re using fly mowers, be sure to have a “hi-rise” kit on hand so the turf can be mown higher if necessary. These kits can be purchased from manufacturers or fabricated in-house with old hoses or PVC.

If mower-related problems seem to occur in the surrounds each year despite careful operators, it’s worth revisiting the equipment used for mowing. It’s possible that the mowers being used are contributing to your green surrounds struggles if they are not perfectly suited to the features on your course. Thankfully, there are a lot of equipment options that can be used for surrounds. Some examples include ride-on units with multiple floating decks and a cutting width around 5-6 feet, mowers like those made by Steiner and Ventrac – with additional tires, advanced traction-control systems and a very low center of gravity, stand-on or self-propelled mowers with a cutting width around 3-4 feet, push mowers and fly mowers. The mowers used at a neighboring course might not be right for yours, so consider all the options available.


For green surrounds, higher nitrogen rates and/or application frequency may be needed given their importance and the golfer and maintenance traffic they receive, especially on entry and exit points. Applying between 25%-50% more annual nitrogen to green surrounds than other rough areas is something to consider if you need to improve turf density. However, this may only be needed for a season or two depending on the desired density, growth rate and recuperative ability of the turf. Potassium and phosphorus should only be applied if a soil test determines there is a deficiency and the turf quality is poor. 

"Applying between 25%-50% more annual nitrogen to green surrounds than other rough areas is something to consider if you need to improve turf density."

Push spreaders are often the best choice for granular fertilizer applications to green surrounds but precision application can be difficult. On surrounds, a spreader operator has little ability to adjust the application width on slopes and in narrow areas while simultaneously maintaining the correct application rate. Keeping the product from ending up on collars or in bunkers is challenging as well, so extra caution is needed. A broadcast spreader with a shield is an option to prevent material from ending up where it isn’t wanted, but this can result in overapplication if the shield causes prills to fall straight down instead of spreading uniformly. A drop spreader is often the best choice when applying fertilizer along the edge of a collar or green. Hand spreaders are a good option for tight areas around bunkers.

Pesticide Applications

The challenges faced when mowing and managing traffic in green surrounds also impact the pest-control strategy. Tight confines and undulating ground can result in inaccurate rates or off-target applications with conventional sprayers and spreaders. As with mowing, a good practice is to make primary rough applications up to a safe point, then use more-appropriate equipment to navigate the surrounds. Unlike mowing, applicators can’t easily differentiate treated and untreated areas, so it’s important to record where primary rough applications end and surround treatments begin to avoid misses or overlaps.

Advancements in technology – including GPS-guided sprayers, independent nozzle control and sonar sensors that automatically maintain proper boom height – allow for extremely precise spray applications. Although these features allow applicators to successfully treat previously inaccessible areas, GPS-guided sprayers are relatively expensive so many superintendents still rely on conventional sprayers to make rough applications. Even when deploying the latest sprayer technology, there are often tight areas that require smaller spray equipment.

For tight areas, sprayers outfitted with a hose reel enable applications by hand using a spray gun or wand. With the sprayer on level ground, operators can access hard-to-reach areas using a hose. This is an effective way to apply products on awkward areas or steep slopes, such as bunker banks. Walk-behind sprayers with booms around 6 feet wide can also be attached to hose reels for uniform applications in areas that sprayers can’t navigate. For spot treatments, backpack or hand-held sprayers have the advantage of portability and accuracy, but spray tank capacity is limited. A 25-gallon tank with an electric pump mounted in a utility cart is a good option as well. With all hand-held sprayers, proper training of applicators is crucial since spray rate depends on controlling the movement of the nozzle. Certain products require application right up to a collar or green, so devices with shields can be fabricated to avoid overspray.

Boomless sprayers can also be used in green surrounds. The spray nozzles for this setup are mounted horizontally and provide a uniform spray application to steep surrounds. Two nozzles pointing in opposite directions are attached to the back of a sprayer and plumbed into the boom hoses. A typical setup might apply 2 gallons per 1,000 square feet and throw around 20 feet per side. Boomless spray nozzles may not be suitable for every operation, but they are a practical option for areas where boom sprayers can’t go.

Some superintendents are experimenting with drones to make spray applications on hard-to-reach areas. Drone spraying technology on golf courses is still in developmental stages, but it shows promise for small, high-value areas.

Controlling Weeds, Insects and Diseases

Weeds are especially problematic in green surrounds due to the amount of traffic and difficulty applying weed-control products uniformly. Preemergence control products must be accurately applied and watered-in correctly to ensure proper performance. Following up on any breakthrough with spot treatments will keep troublesome weeds from gaining a foothold. When selecting products, keep in mind the different grass species in a green complex and their relative tolerances. Products may be labeled for a given species, but only at certain mowing heights. Postemergence herbicides can be especially injurious if misapplied.

When considering insect pests, surrounds can be easily overlooked. For example, white grubs rarely become a problem on greens due to insecticide applications. However, grub control in surrounds is more difficult due to the accuracy required in timing and the limited number of applications typically made in these areas. Combination products that include a granular fertilizer, a preemergence herbicide and an insecticide are an effective way to control grassy weeds and prevent white grub damage with a single application.

Although turf diseases aren’t as concerning in surrounds as in areas of closely mown turf, gray leaf spot has caused significant damage to perennial ryegrass and turf-type tall fescue. Other diseases can also cause surrounds turf to deteriorate quickly under the right conditions. However, selecting disease-resistant grasses suited to your location will reduce the need for fungicide applications and the potential for severe turf loss.

Controlling various turfgrass pests in surrounds requires ample resources, labor and time for applications. For courses with modest budgets, it makes sense to focus primarily on controlling weeds and destructive insects in the surrounds and to only use fungicides on a curative basis if at all.

Establishing Stronger Grasses

Worn-down areas are likely to develop at some point, especially in high-traffic areas or along bunker edges, so small sod or overseeding projects will be needed occasionally. In northern areas, Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type tall fescue, or a mixture of the two, are the most common choices for surrounds. Because it has improved disease resistance and drought tolerance, many superintendents have had success using turf-type tall fescue for bunker banks and a combination of turf-type tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass for the rest of the surrounds. However, it should be recognized that many northern courses have a mixture of grasses in their surrounds – some desirable and some not.

Creeping bentgrass and bermudagrass can quickly invade surrounds, creating inconsistent lies and poor playing conditions. If these grassy weeds become a severe infestation, it’s often best to start over and sod the surrounds with your preferred grass. Selective herbicide applications could be made to control these weeds, but the applications often result in large bare areas that require reestablishment anyway. Overseeding surrounds is an option, but it’s less common because it takes longer to establish than sod and because traffic control is a challenge.

In southern areas, bermudagrass is the preferred species for green surrounds. Replacing the surrounds turf isn’t needed as often on warm-season golf courses because bermudagrass has high wear tolerance. However, if sodding is necessary on a warm-season course, use newer varieties of bermudagrass that have improved traffic, drought, cold and shade tolerance.

If wholesale turf replacement is deemed necessary in a green surround area, determining how large an area to sod is highly subjective. Cost is usually the biggest driver, but each surround is different so the ideal target area should be determined on a hole-by-hole basis. Ideally, the sod line should extend completely down any slopes, around all bunkers, and a few paces past bunkers, mounds or other features. Extending the sod line to adjacent cart paths or other obvious locations often makes sense as well.


Green surrounds require specific management inputs to produce good playing conditions and additional resources are often needed to significantly improve performance. If a budget increase isn’t possible, create a hierarchy for the different rough areas on the course based on the amount of play they receive instead of trying to maintain them all at the same level. By prioritizing green surrounds over other areas – e.g., tee surrounds and primary rough – an improvement in playability and performance should be possible without a budget increase.

Before adjusting maintenance practices, set clear expectations for turf conditions in areas where inputs will be reduced. Rough should always be rough, and variable conditions and the occasional imperfect lie should be expected when we miss our target.

Through the Course Consulting Service and GPS Service, the USGA can provide course-specific recommendations to help you improve the green surrounds at your course. 

Adam Moeller is an agronomist in the Northeast Region and director of the Green Section Education program. 

John Petrovsky is a manager in the Green Section Education program and a former golf course superintendent.