Golf course proprietors invest a great deal of energy, care and money in creating and maintaining top-quality course conditions. The United States Golf Association says that USGA agronomists located throughout the country each visit more than 130 courses annually to help golf course staff and officials produce the best golf turf possible within each course's budget. The USGA Turf Advisory Service's Green Section department supports research on turf technology and care, and since 1920, the USGA has funded research projects at land grant universities across the country, contributing more than $40 million to improve the playing conditions and enjoyment of the game. These research grants lead to improved grasses and playing surfaces requiring less water and maintenance, and better tolerance of disease and pests. Courses meticulously care for every foot and every acre of their grounds, so that you can enjoy fine play on a flawless course. In short, a lot of effort goes into creating that golf course you play on.
Yet "all but the wealthiest courses are finding it harder to make a profit these days, with large increases in fuel, fertilizer and labor. Since labor almost always represents the largest budget item, it typically is the first to be targeted when budget reductions are necessary. When forced to choose, most courses with reduced available labor place a higher priority on agronomic necessities rather than the niceties of completing the tasks that good golfers normally do for themselves anyway. Unless we can somehow encourage players to become better golfers, the overall quality of many courses will decline rapidly during tough economic times," says Jim Moore, director of USGA Green Section's Construction Education Program.
So to help ensure that your favorite course will always be there for your enjoyment, and to be a good steward of any course on which you play, be mindful of your responsibilities to help keep golf courses in top-quality condition. You know not to litter, of course, but you might not know the damage that some of your actions can cause to a golf course.
Here are some tips for preventing damage to a golf course:
--Filling divots. When your swing removes a chunk of earth from the ground, it's good golf etiquette to replace that chunk so that the grass can keep growing. But be aware that some courses provide special material -- often a seed mixture -- in a bucket for your use as a divot-filler. Simply placing that chunk you carved from the earth into the divot might not be enough to allow it to re-grow. Don't, however, over-fill the hole with this material, since the mound can dull or damage mowers.
--Fixing ball marks. Some shots can create an elongated tearing of the green that removes grass and soil. You can fix these streaks in the ground by gently pushing the earth from each side of the streak, folding over flaps and encouraging healthy regrowth. Don't twist the torn ground, since that can cause more damage.
--Smoothing bunkers. Use the course-provided sand rake to smooth out your footprints and club swipes in the sand bunkers, but don't dig too deeply. Some bunkers have linings beneath them to discourage weed growth, and you don't want to dig into and tear them. Never use your shoes, hands or clubs to smooth bunker sand.
--Get into and out of bunkers carefully. Again, some courses embed liners along the sides of bunkers to discourage erosion, and if you're careless walking up the slopes, you can tear these linings, causing damage to the bunker and the course. Moore says that linings should always be covered with 2-3 inches of sand. Always enter and exit the bunker on the low side.
--Drive carts with care. They're one of the top damaging elements to a course. So, to keep deep tire ruts from ruining the course, don't drive them on the banks of tees or on approaches to greens. And don't make the common mistake of pulling your front two tires onto the course to make room for other carts to pass. Don't drive on wet or muddy areas, which leaves deep tire marks and can get you stuck enough to spin your wheels, causing terrible damage.
--Don't lean on your golf bag. Fatigued golfers often make this mistake, leaning on their bag for a rest, but this can leave an impression of the bag or wheels in the ground. Don't lean on your golf clubs, either, since they too will leave marks on the grounds and also bend your clubs.
--Don't stand in one place for too long. If you're waiting for slow players ahead of you, or taking practice swings or putts, move your foot position -- especially on soft ground -- to prevent the embeds of your footprints on the course.
--Don't leave broken tees on the ground. They can ruin mowing equipment, so pick up all pieces and discard them into your golf bag pocket or a trash bag in your golf cart.
--Don't overfill trash receptacles. If your trash is barely in the receptacle, a good wind can send trash skittering across the golf course. Hang onto your drink cups and paper trash until you reach a less-full receptacle farther down the course.
Moore says that none of these careful steps will slow your play, so set a good example for the people with whom you are playing. Encourage your entire group to avoid damage to the golf course.