skip to main content

Key Takeaways:

  • Fairway mowing is one of the most costly and time-consuming tasks on a golf course. With staff time at a premium and golf courses busier than ever, superintendents are very interested in ways to improve efficiency.
  • This study used GPS loggers to compare fairway mowing time for a striped pattern and a “50-50” pattern to see if one was more efficient than the other.
  • The results showed that mowing in a 50-50 pattern was 13.5% faster per acre per operator on average.
  • The average time for a complete fairway mowing was 24% faster in the 50-50 pattern than the striped pattern – 7.5 staff mowing hours versus 9.9 staff hours at the course studied – because each operator or team of operators does not mow an equal amount of fairway acreage in the field.
  • There were statistically significant differences in mowing efficiency per acre per operator when comparing paired and single operators.

Most golf courses choose to mow their fairways in either a pattern of crossing stripes or in a “50-50” pattern where half the fairway is mown toward the tee and half toward the green. Aesthetic preferences are often the deciding factor in which pattern is used, but what if data showed that one pattern is more efficient than the other? Given the scarcity and cost of labor, and the high cost of other inputs like fuel and equipment, operating efficiently has never been more important for golf course maintenance teams.

Many in the golf course maintenance industry believe that mowing fairways in a 50-50 pattern is more efficient than a striped pattern, but there is little data to support that theory or quantify the magnitude of any difference. For this reason, the USGA Green Section initiated a study into which pattern is faster and sought to measure the difference in a real-world scenario. Having this information would help courses choose fairway mowing patterns based on objective criteria like the value of time and fuel savings along with the subjective aesthetic considerations.


This study began after we learned that Contra Costa Country Club in Pleasant Hill, California, made an annual switch between mowing fairways in stripes and the 50-50 pattern based on the season. Golf is played year-round in the San Francisco Bay Area, but turf growth and recovery naturally slows with the shorter days and cooler weather in and around winter. During the primary growing season for cool-season grasses in this area – approximately April to October – Contra Costa mows their fairways in a striped pattern. During the shoulder seasons and winter, they switch to mowing 50-50 because this pattern involves less turning overall and fewer sharp turns. It also reduces the amount of turning in the rough, which is especially sensitive to traffic in winter at Contra Costa because the soil outside the fairways holds more moisture. The same operators and fairway units are used throughout the year, which made Contra Costa an excellent site for investigating differences in efficiency between the two patterns.

To measure the mowing time in each pattern, the three fairway mower operators were given GPS trackers at the start of each mowing day. They activated the trackers before leaving the maintenance facility and turned them off when they returned. Two of the operators worked as a pair and one worked as a single in both patterns because this was the normal staffing allocation. For the purposes of this research, the paired operators and the single always worked on separate holes. This arrangement allowed us to study whether a pair was more efficient per operator than a single.

We tracked fairway mowing time for three complete fairway mows in each pattern. Data for the striping pattern was collected in September of 2021 and data for the 50-50 pattern was collected in March of 2022. Two of the three fairway mower operators were the same in both studies, one left the maintenance team and was replaced by another staff member who was equivalently familiar with fairway mowing in both patterns. Once each phase of the study was complete, tracking data from the loggers was entered into the USGA DEACONTM platform, where a USGA Green Section data scientist analyzed the mowing time. Transit between holes and breaks from mowing were excluded from the data.


Mowing fairways in the 50-50 pattern took an average time of 16.0 minutes per acre per operator, while mowing in the striped pattern took an average time of 18.5 minutes per acre per operator, for an average overall difference of 2.5 minutes per acre per operator. This represents an average time savings of 13.5% per acre per operator by mowing in the 50-50 pattern. This difference was found to be statistically significant, meaning that the difference in mowing time can be attributed to the mowing patterns and not variability in the sample data.

Contra Costa Country Club has 28.5 acres of fairways. On average, it took 9.9 staff mowing hours to complete fairway mowing in the striped pattern and 7.5 staff mowing hours in the 50-50 pattern, a difference of 2.4 staff hours. Put another way, the three operators completed fairway mowing 48 minutes faster on average in the 50-50 pattern than the striped pattern. This difference (24%) is higher than the average savings per acre per operator (13.5%) because individual operators don’t necessarily mow equal portions of the course. The paired operators mow more fairway area on a given day because they are more efficient than the single operator, which increases the actual time savings compared to the average.

The difference in time savings between the total mowing time and the average mowing time per acre per operator points to the inevitable variability in results that might be observed at a given course based on staffing arrangements, course features, and the countless situations that can affect productivity on a given day. The total mowing time savings observed in the 50-50 pattern suggests that the 13.5% savings per acre per operator is likely on the low end of what would be observed in the field in most cases.

In addition to the difference in mowing time based on the pattern, we also observed a difference in mowing efficiency between paired operators and the single operator. When analyzing the difference within each pattern of paired versus single operators, the average mowing time per acre per operator in the striping pattern was 21.0 minutes for the single operator and 17.0 minutes for each of the double operators, for an average overall difference of 4 minutes per acre per operator. This was a statistically significant finding. In the 50-50 pattern, the time per acre per operator was 16.1 minutes for the single operator and 15.6 minutes for the double operators, for a difference of 0.5 minutes. This was not a statistically significant difference.


The statistically significant difference in mowing time per acre per operator between the two patterns supports the hypothesis that mowing fairways in a 50-50 pattern is more efficient than mowing in stripes. This difference is likely attributable to less turning and longer continuous passes in the 50-50 pattern. The time savings at Contra Costa amounted to an average of 48 minutes for each mowing of their 28.5 acres of fairways, or 2.4 staff hours per mowing because there were three operators. Courses with more fairway area would save more time. In addition to staff time savings, there are also fuel and equipment maintenance savings associated with operating fairway units for less time to complete each fairway mow.

"The statistically significant difference in mowing time per acre per operator between the two patterns supports the hypothesis that mowing fairways in a 50-50 pattern is more efficient than mowing in stripes."

Completing fairway mowing operations faster means that mower operators are available for other tasks sooner, which translates to more productivity. A more efficient mowing pattern can also help to keep fairway mowers ahead of play, which makes the work safer and more efficient and improves golfer satisfaction because play is disrupted less frequently by the presence of mowers. With staff time at a premium and many courses busier than ever, the benefits of mowing in a 50-50 pattern are worth considering if your course is currently mowing fairways in stripes.

The statistically significant difference in fairway mowing time per acre per operator between paired operators and single operators is also noteworthy. Arranging fairway mowers in pairs makes both operators more efficient than they would be on their own. The effect was particularly pronounced and statistically significant in the striping pattern, where there was a 19% average time savings per acre per operator between the paired and single operator. Superintendents using the striping approach should consider arranging mower operators in pairs to optimize efficiency. Another factor to consider is that average mowing time per acre for single operators in the 50-50 pattern was 23% less than single operators in the striping pattern. This suggests that if you prefer to have fairway mower operators working as singles, or if you have an odd number of fairway mower operators like Contra Costa, then the 50-50 pattern will likely yield higher time savings.


With staff time more valuable than ever, and golf courses seemingly busier than ever, improving efficiency in any task is worth considering. Based on this research, there is an opportunity for meaningful time savings by switching the fairway mowing pattern from stripes to 50-50. While the exact time savings realized at any course will depend on course design, topography, mowing equipment and the number of operators – along with many other factors – this study points to a clear difference in mowing efficiency that should lead to savings of 13%-20% in mowing time. While the debate between using these two patterns often focuses on aesthetics, there are measurable differences in staff time, fuel use and other inputs that should be included in the discussion.

Along with the fairway mowing results, this study also highlights the potential value in using data collection to identify opportunities for improved efficiency in a wide variety of maintenance practices. The USGA Green Section has used GPS loggers to help courses study golfer traffic patterns and pace of play, but this research shows other potentially useful applications for this technology. Using GPS loggers and the DEACON platform made this study highly precise and efficient, but superintendents can also learn a great deal about their maintenance practices by simply timing how long different tasks take to complete and comparing different approaches. This information can help identify opportunities to improve efficiency and it provides insight into the cost involved for various maintenance practices. When planning the maintenance program or communicating with golfers and decision-makers, this information is invaluable.

Thank you to golf course superintendent Steven Spatafore and the maintenance team at Contra Costa Country Club for assisting with this research.