In my last article, “Evaluating Golf Greens Conditions, Part I”, I covered the importance and uses of evaluating golf course greens with focus on presentation. In this article I am going to cover the last two categories – playability and maintenance standards.
Comparing Presentation and Playability
I want to start by comparing presentation and playability from the golfers’ perspective. With presentation the golfer can see exactly what is there, he can immediately experience this whether positive or negative with a simple visual observation of the greens. Playability is much more subjective than presentation because it can be influenced by various internal factors.
An example of one of these factors is the fixed opinion. A golfer’s judgment may be influenced by something he heard; such as, “the greens are slow today”. This being said by someone who just got off the practice green, which may have been slightly slower or more highly used than the other greens. This can influence the overall feeling about the greens playability throughout the day. The golfer can feel they are slow, when in actual fact they are at standard speed. As an interesting side note, there have been many surveys done by the USGA and other notable golf organizations since 1978 and it was found that the golfers perception of green speed could vary from more than six inches up to one foot of the actual speed. This is a big difference when one is considering are the greens fast or slow!
Another factor is the skill level of the golfer. For example, his skill level might not be good enough to assess if a putt was slightly uphill or slightly downhill. If uphill the golfer might “feel” like the greens are slow when his ball stops short of the holes or, fast if he cannot see the downhill slope of the ball line and it rolls out a few feet more than he expected.
Weather is also a factor such as high and low humidity. Another example is with warm season grasses as they are especially susceptible to weather and can putt slower in the afternoon because of the growth during the day or slower in the morning because of the morning dew that settles in after the greens are mown.
Moisture can influence the speed of the ball. Let’s say it was a hot day and the superintendent decided to syringe the greens with just a little bit of moisture and the golfer walks up to the greens hits the ball and it slows down six inches because there is moisture on the ball. Or, it just rained.
Another big factor is time of day. A freshly cut green in the morning in a very hot humid climate can slow down 6 – 8 inches even up to a foot by the end of the day. If a golfer plays every Sunday morning he can find the greens are putting great. He then plays one late afternoon, giving the greens 12 hours to grow, and he finds they are slower so he feels they greens are slow TODAY.
Grain will affect the speed of ball roll, scuff marks and spike marks caused by the golfer can create snaking and bobbling, (fortunately today we are allowed to tap down scuff marks and spike marks).
The golfers subjective opinion of the greens might make it seem like you cannot evaluate greens for playability, but it is quite the contrary. It is this subjectivity, inherent to some degree in all of us, that makes it even more important to include playability as part of your evaluation – because it is so subjective!
Evaluation of greens playability provides a snapshot of the greens conditions as well as a trend of these conditions. We can see which greens are doing well and which greens need improvement and focus on those improvements, as well as see trends for the greens. But what is more important is we can report the evaluation findings and use this report information to educate the membership. This type of information can greatly improve the golfers understanding of playability conditions and thus he learns how to adjust his game. In particular with the higher handicap golfers.
Maintenance standards start with a Course Management Policy (CMP). The CMP lays out the Standard Operating Procedures and expected maintenance standards for each season as club resources allow. But there are several criteria in this category that more strongly influence presentation and playability that I want to bring up in this article.
The first is hole changing. It is important to make sure the staff that performs this procedure set the cups and the plugs properly. Leaning flags indicate poor cup cutting or worn out flag sticks or cups. High plugs will get scalped; whereas, low plugs will develop a darker green spot because the area has more grass. Of the two, low is better because it will grow, high is worse because it will die – low grow & high die!
Next is disease. Scouting for disease when weather conditions are ideal and performing preventative fungicides to make sure that your greens stay healthy during inclement weather is of vital importance. There is no faster way to lose areas or patches on greens as from undetected disease that has gone on too long. This will definitely affect playability and may be cause for re-grassing areas of the greens, which is unsightly and negatively affects playability.
Algae on the greens, is a big no-no because the golfer can see it as part of the visual presentation and may affect putting as well. If your greens do have algae it is important to take a look at your maintenance programs, especially fertility and water management because something urgently needs adjusting and something is off with your main protocol.
Other criteria such as encroachment, issues with wear on entrance/exit points, insects, shade or mowing patterns can all be corrected or worsened with good/poor maintenance programs. This category is very vital as it provides the fundamentals that create best possible conditions for presentation and playability.
(1) The first takeaway should be that evaluating golf course conditions should be done on a regular basis, preferably monthly.
(2) Next, evaluate with the same criteria each month. This means you should be sure to start with the most relevant criteria for your club so you don’t need to change it midstream.
(3) Thirdly, use this information to report to your greens committee. The greens committee can and should use this information to educate the membership via newsletters, bulletin boards or other channels.
(4) As a superintendent, I have found that evaluation results can also be used to adjust monthly programming. It can be used to create friendly competitions amongst the maintenance team to motivate them.
(5) For the general manager, it is easy to see how your superintendent is doing with his programs because you have your first evaluation – the benchmark evaluation – to compare subsequent evaluations. Are his programs improving conditions or are they declining. Is he achieving or surpassing maintenance standards?
(6) The Greens committee, general manager and Superintendent can discuss progress or improvement needs from the same platform – the evaluation report. And if you are doing these monthly you can add the trends for each feature as well as the overall conditions. In my experience this saves a tremendous amount of time trying to get all parties to understand the conditions of the golf course.
The core asset of the club – the golf course – should be measured, it can be measured.
I hope you found this helpful.