Geeked on Golf

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Musings on Greenkeeping


Okay, that title is a bit click-baity.  These musings are not exactly about greenkeeping.  I know only enough to be dangerous.  What I do know with certainty is that a Golf Course Superintendent’s job is hard.

I have the good fortune of counting among my friends quite a few greenkeepers.  I watch them work and am perpetually impressed by how they pour their hearts into their work.  We players reap the rewards.  The following musings are tips intended to help players be significantly cooler than they often are to their Superintendents.  Necessarily, the tone of these musings is a bit preachy.  Forgive me – some folks need a tough love talking-to.

TIP #1 – Say “Thank You”

When you see your Super out on the course, if you really want to interrupt their work to have a chat, be cool.  Comments like, “Thanks for the hard work”, and “The course is playing great today”, and “How’s the family?” are appropriate.  Your critique of the course conditions that day are not.  Two reasons why.  The first is that feedback gathering is what your Green Chairman is for.  They take it all in, filter, prioritize and collaborate with your Superintendent to present the best conditions possible.  If your course is overseen by a benevolent dictator like my home course, then save your breath.  The second, and much more important reason, is that a Superintendent out on the course is a person in their happy place.  Just like you when you are playing.  They aren’t on the course to provide mobile suggestion box accessibility services for you.  It would be inappropriate and rude for a member of the maintenance crew to roll up and give you feedback on your swing sequence in the middle of the round.  See where I’m going with this?

In the unlikely event that your observations are so mission critical that the normal channels just won’t cut it, then make an appointment to talk to your Super.  Perhaps even buy them lunch.  Seem like too much trouble?  Then just stick to “Thank you”.

TIP #2 – You Don’t Know Greenkeeping

Perhaps you are a great businessperson, lawyer, doctor, or other professional.  I celebrate your success, truly and sincerely.  Your profession is not greenkeeping though, and whatever expertise you may have does not translate to agronomy and golf course maintenance.  Further, being good at hitting a golf ball does not mean that you know anything about doing the Superintendent’s job.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that players can’t tell the difference between good and poor conditions, and I am not saying that all Superintendents do a great job all the time.  What I am saying is that identifying problems is the easy part.  If you’ve noticed, they already have too.  What to do about those problems is an entirely different matter about which most players have no clue.  It’s therefore best to have some humility, let the experts do their job, and enjoy your round.

TIP #3 – Fast vs. True

Issues with pace of play and enjoyment of the game associated with stimpmeter obsession and the push for faster greens are well documented.  The truth is that most players are not skilled enough to handle greens much over 10 anyway, so stop asking your Super for those PGA Tour conditions.  Pushing the greens for speed increases cost, stresses turf, and makes your Superintendent’s job more difficult.  All for ego.  Golf is hard enough without those extra half-dozen three putts, as well as the lasting mental anguish for both you and your playing partners who had to watch.

What we should be asking for are putting surfaces that roll true.  There is a difference between fast and true, and the latter is ideal for almost all players.  Don’t you want to make more putts?  Of course you do.  Change your ask, and your Superintendent will happily oblige.  The turf will be happier too.

TIP #4 – Embrace the Seasons

Regardless of where you live, changing weather patterns affect your golf course.  Think of these patterns as seasons, and embrace seasonal changes.  The changes mean variety, and variety is the essence of golf’s goodness.

Your course is not supposed to look and play the same every day.  Expecting your Superintendent to deliver the same conditions rain or shine, monsoon or drought, spring, summer, and fall is an impossible standard.  You’ll stress out the staff, and waste money and resources in the process.  Instead, remember that part of the beauty of golf is that it takes us outside to get in touch with nature in all its varied glory.  Natural playing conditions, depending on the weather and season, are the standard that we should desire.

TIP #5 – The Course is for Playing

Golf courses are things of beauty.  They are a blend of art and science, and they are a joy to look at.  However, let’s not forget that a golf course is fundamentally a field of play.  It is for playing, first and foremost, and there are times when the best playing conditions might not be generally accepted as the prettiest.

Your Superintendent’s job is to provide the best possible playing surfaces.  If those surfaces can be pretty too, that’s great.  But if something has to give, give up the looks for the playability.  What is the point of a pretty green fairway if your drive plugs when it lands?  What is the point of having pretty trees and flowers if they detract from having the resources necessary to deliver putting surfaces that roll true?  Gardens are for pretty.  Courses are for play.

TIP #6 – Resources Must Match Expectations

In the unlikely event that you are reading this post while wearing your Augusta National member’s jacket, congrats.  Couldn’t be happier for you and the unlimited resources you are able to give to your Superintendent.  For everyone else, your course is not Augusta, and does not have those resources.

Do you know what your course’s maintenance budget is?  Do you know how that budget compares to other courses you play or see?  It’s helpful to know these numbers to give context to your expectations.  We all want our Superintendents to get the highest level of quality out of the resources they have.  Fair enough.  The best Supers are indeed miracle workers with stretching dollars and man hours.  The bottom line is that our expectations for playing conditions need to be reasonably aligned with available resources.

You on a beer budget?  Brother, you ain’t drinking champagne.

Go Out and Play

That wasn’t so bad, was it?  Just a few simple tips to give you the right mindset to actually be a friend to your Greenkeeper.  Practice it like your short game, and your time on the course will feel more like the privilege that it is.

During your time off the course, if you want to enhance your perspective by learning the basics of golf course architecture, I recommend Andy Johnson’s Architecture 101 series on The Fried Egg, and his podcast with Tom Doak.  To dive even deeper, grab yourself a book off the Geek’s Library shelves.




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

3 thoughts on “Musings on Greenkeeping

  1. Pingback: My Musings on Golf | Geeked on Golf

  2. Someone needs to start the slow clap!!!

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