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Helping Public Golf Courses Overcome Challenges April 19, 2019 By Patrick O'Brien, agronomist, Southeast Region

Public golf courses make great contributions to the game of golf. This is where golf begins for most players.

Like most golfers, many members of the golf course maintenance community initially became interested in golf at public golf courses. Many of us played our first rounds at a public course because it was accessible, located nearby and provided an ideal setting to develop our golf skills. Many of us also found a friendly community of golfers at these facilities.

Bill Anderson, Carolinas Golf Association agronomist, recently gave a presentation on the current state of the game at public golf courses in the Carolinas. With more than 40 years of experience as a golf course superintendent, his perspectives were meaningful and included the following data:

  • 17 percent of public courses have operational budgets less than $250,000
  • Rounds of golf and revenue were flat or down at 50 percent of these courses
  • 26 percent need putting green renovation projects
  • 47 percent need new irrigation systems or upgrades
  • 51 percent need major tree work
  • 59 percent need bunker renovation projects


Despite modest operational budgets, a scarce supply of labor and the need for greater capital investment, public courses provide the greatest example in the golf industry that golf doesn’t have to be expensive to be enjoyable. For these courses to be economically sustainable they must focus on what is most important, including these key management techniques:

  • Focusing resources on primary playing areas
  • Maintaining fewer acres overall
  • Reducing shade issues
  • Reducing maintenance of non-golf areas, such as planting beds
  • Matching realistic maintenance standards with available resources
  • Being practical, realistic and creative


Finally, his recommendations for a successful public course management strategy included the following:

  • Hire a talented golf superintendent
  • Communicate often to golfers
  • Utilize a monthly budget
  • Avoid unnecessary projects
  • Build golfer and public support for the facility


Public golf courses face many challenges today. Superintendents are spread thin and wear too many hats – including acting as equipment technician, irrigation technician, spray technician and office manager. Superintendents must make endless decisions and difficult choices as they set priorities within tight budgets. They must also communicate regularly with golfers who may not fully understand the challenges facing the facility.

The good news is that focusing on what matters most can improve the golf experience regardless of a facility’s budget. These improvements should cause the number of rounds to rise and encourage golfers to play more golf. Focusing resources where they have the most impact is not only good for public golf facilities, it is good for the game as a whole.


Southeast Region Agronomists:

Chris Hartwiger, director, USGA Course Consulting Service –

Steve Kammerer, regional director –

Patrick M. O’Brien, agronomist –

Addison Barden, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff