Course Maintenance And Speed Of Play

One of the main complaints from non-golfers and former golfers is the time commitment required to play a round.

While it’s great for business if courses are busy, it’s unfortunate if golfers are being turned off the game due to the fact that it takes too long too play.

Speed of play is a major issue with golf officials as we must continue to grow the game by keeping players and attracting new ones.

There are several reasons why speed of play may be an issue and some relate to course maintenance practices.

Course maintenance-wise there are a few things that are done to the greens that can lead to slow play. The first one is green speeds.

These days many Superintendents feel pressured to ensure the greens are putting “fast”. If green speeds are increasing round times, slowing them down should help golfers play quicker and help to keep greens healthier.

In general golfers should be averaging no worse than 2-3 putts per green. If this is not the case there is a good chance that the greens are cut too short in order to accommodate for speed. Unfortunately, the expense for fast greens is slow play (amongst other things).

Another factor on the greens that leads to slow play is poor pin placements. As simple as it may sound, finding pin placements that do not get repetitive is not an easy task.

Most Superintendents try to keep holes at least a pin length away from the edge of the green. Hole locations should also not be within 3-4 feet of any severe slopes.

The problem is that quite often the person determining hole locations may not be a golfer and therefore not cognizant of the fact that pin placements play such a big role in speed of play and ultimately golfer enjoyment.

Maintenance practices in fairways can also affect speed of play. Fairways that are maintained with less water for drier, harder and faster conditions will keep speed of play acceptable.

Balls that are able to bounce and roll long distances keep golfers moving through the fairway and play moving at a reasonable rate.

Another way that fairways can lead to faster play is by frequent divot repair. Shots that are hit off healthy turf are more likely to go where the golfer intends as opposed to balls that must be hit out of divots.

This is as much up to golfers as it is to maintenance crews, as most courses allow for golfers to repair divots using sand bottles that can be found in carts or on the sides of fairways.

One of the biggest causes of slow play is a golfer that has difficulty playing out of the rough. Superintendents should have a good idea of their clientele and mow rough areas accordingly.

Public golf courses typically cut their rough at about 1.5 – 2 inches, allowing for golfers to easily find their balls and have a decent chance of keeping their next shot in play.

Rough areas that are left too long can make finding balls difficult and hitting them out even tougher. (Rough areas are not to be confused with out-of-play areas that should be left unmaintained altogether).

Tee decks can play a role in the length of time it takes to play a round. Tee markers should be located in relation to pin placements.

If a hole is cut at the back of a 170-yard par-3 the tee markers should be placed at the front of the deck so that the hole will still play 170 yards.

Placing a pin at the back of a green and tee markers at the back of the decks will effectively make the hole play longer than is indicated to the golfer. This often leads to golfers making poor club selections and suffering the consequences.

It is important that tee markers are aligned to face the middle of the fairway. Many golfers aim where they are directed whether it be down the fairway or into the woods.

The main hazard that is dealt with by Superintendents is bunkers.

It is important that bunker rakes are supplied in easy to access places so golfers do not have to look for them.

In fact, rakes that seem inaccessible will simply not be used, resulting in an unraked bunker.

These are all considerations that must be taken into account by Superintendents on a daily basis in order to keep the game interesting and prevent turning an enjoyable 4-hour round into a miserable 6-hour nightmare.

About the writer:
Rick Munro has been working in the golf course maintenance and construction industry for the past 20 years and has professional certificates in Turfgrass Management, Environmental Management of the golf course as well as Golf Course Construction and Design from the University of Guelph.

Rick is the principal of an Environmental Consulting business called GREENSIDE Environmental Services specializing in Audubon certification aid for golf courses.

Greenside Environmental Services

He can be contacted at

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