On-Course Grumbles: Who is really to blame?

A recent study by Today’s Golfer magazine has shown that 74% of golfers will blame the greenkeepers if they perceive the course to be in a poor condition. Yet the same study also revealed some telling findings about golfers own habits that make for compelling reading.

A survey taken by members of BIGGA (the British and International Greenkeepers Association) revealed that while golfers are quick to blame greenkeepers for every little problem they see on course, they also showed that golfers are very slow to credit the teams if the course is playing in a good condition.

So, we ask who is really to blame if the course you are playing isn’t quite up to standard?


It is an intriguing question which requires careful consideration especially when you consider that the survey showed that nearly half the golfers greenskeepers have witnessed playing on their courses, do not know how to repair a pitch mark properly and will often leave the green in a poor condition when they have finished putting.


Furthermore, the study revealed that most greenskeeping staff think that their role is seriously undervalued and misunderstood by the majority of golfers and that this leads to a lack of respect for the important role they play. The net result being that most greenskeeping staff interviewed felt that all golfers should take an ‘etiquette’ test explaining to them the role of the greenskeeping staff and how they can ensure their play does not impact on the quality of the course.


The problem with surveys like this is while they can provide a writer with compelling headlines, they can appear divisive: Is it true that almost half of all golfers don’t know how, or just don’t bother trying, to repair pitch marks on the green or divots on the fairway? Do we, as golfers, undervalue and show a lack of understanding and respect for the role of the greenskeeper and their team?


golf course pitch-marks


Ask any golfer and I am sure that they would view themselves as having a good understanding of what constitutes sensible, environmentally friendly on-course management. We are generally taught from an early age to repair our divots (either by replacing turf, or filling the divot with sand or similar), we are (or at least, should be) shown how to repair pitch marks on the green to ensure that the green is in as good a condition as possible for the next group playing through.

Yet, it is often the case that you’ll walk down the fairway and see large divots taken from the fairway not replaced, and greens punctured with unrepaired pitch marks. In these situations, how can this be the fault of the greens staff?

In an era when environmental awareness in golf is at a peak, it seems utterly incongruous to lay the blame for poor course quality at the hands of greenskeepers, when it is the lack of care shown by some players that cause the vast majority of problems that you encounter on a course.

Yet that’s not to absolve greenskeepers completely of blame here. One of my biggest personal bugbears (and one of the reasons I tend not to play golf too frequently in the cooler periods of the year) is the issue of temporary greens.


While I completely agree that greens need time over the wetter months to be protected from heavy traffic and thus cut up and ruined for the year, I do feel that the quality of some temporary greens provided by greenskeeping staff, certainly at my local course, make a mockery of playing a round of golf with any meaning.

Often the temporary green is moved 10 to 50 yards closer to the tee, it is usually just a hastily mown circle of grass, often on lumpy, bumpy ground. One temporary green I remember being placed underneath a pine tree, which then liberally showered the surface with pinecones and pineneedles, making putting in a straight line almost impossible for any player.



In situations like this, I feel the player is most definitely not to blame. If we are paying to play on the course, I do not feel it is unreasonable to ask for temporary greens that allow players to at least adhere to the basic principles of golf, i.e. that we can putt on the green without our ball being catapulted around as if we were putting on a cobbled street.


So yes, I agree that golfers should receive etiquette training as part of their education about the game and that player should always promote this out on the course. Stiffer penalties for those that flout the rule would also be a bonus (though how this would be enforced would be a bone of contention). Golfers should also have immense respect for the great work the vast majority of greenskeepers do throughout the year, giving us courses upon which we can indulge our favourite hobby.

But please greenskeepers, give us temporary greens that we can at least putt on. Then maybe you’ll tempt a few of us fair-weather golfers out in the colder months too to appreciate all the fine work you do.


Pictures courtesy of Gorilla Golf Library, on-par.com,  Sunskier.com


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h2o-boy March 18, 2013

Greenskeeping is a lot like being a referee/umpire. No one notices when you are doing it right, but everyone sees when you have made a mistake and will call you out on it. If you can’t accept that, find a different profession.

In regards to etiquette, I think the level of etiquette knowledge depends on the level of the golfer and the price of the green fee. I used to work at a low priced beginner golf course and I would estimate that 75% of the golfers coming through there did not know how to fix a ball mark on a green, or that they were even supposed to. An etiquette test would have been great, but not in any way practical. We just settled for hoping they did not decide to take a full swing on the green and leave a huge divot there.

But when I was playing at the Country Club I used to belong to, nearly all pitch marks got repaired, along with the divots in the fairways.


Tommy Priest March 20, 2013

Your comments are right-on. I hope a lot of people have read them. Please keep them coming. I have great respect for the greenskeeper at the club I belong to. He’s competent, knowledgable,modest and commands his team (probably close to 20 people) with precision.

The members are also carefully controlled by the club’s direction and by themselves to keep the club in shape by not doing very many stupid things.


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