Repair divots and ball marks

The average golfer leaves about 12 ball marks during a typical round of golf. With a daily average of 160 rounds on a typical golf course, your greens will suffer 1,920 ball marks each day and 58,400 ball marks per month--more than 700,000 ball marks each year! Further, consider that the average number of divots a typical golfer creates during a round of golf is 45. This equates to 7,200 divots a day or 2,628,000 divots each year!

While golfers may be unaware of the impact of their play, these numbers are mind-boggling if you--the superintendent--are the party responsible for repairing these blemishes to your playing surfaces. Not many superintendents have the luxury of staffing sufficient personnel to address these repairs without some assistance. However, if you do a good job of educating golfers, rangers and pro-shop staff and provide them with what they need to easily address these repairs, you and your staff may not have to spend much time repairing ball marks or divots.

Much of what we learn in the turf industry comes from other turf managers. Thus, the best source of advice for repairing ball marks and divots is out there on the thousands of golf courses across the country. Here, I'll share some of the best ideas that are saving golf-course superintendents from throwing a lot of labor at ball-mark and divot repair.

Educating staff Clearly, the No. 1 priority of any successful repair program is education. Effective superintendents always have recognized the importance of educating and training the staff under their supervision. However, the most effective turf managers take this process to the next level by educating the pro-shop employees as well as the golfers. Depending on the type of course you manage, your target audience will vary. A private membership is an easier group to capture and educate than a daily-fee-, municipal- or resort-course player. The latter are not impossible to work with--they simply require a different approach.

One of the keys to a successful education campaign is expanding your coverage by training the pro-shop staff and the marshals or rangers policing the course in carts. It is important to reinforce your teaching efforts by establishing a "culture" that all staff members are expected to participate in these repair functions at every opportunity. This means you have to "walk the walk" by consistently being a good role model. If you do it, they will do it. Remember this the next time you and a member of the pro-shop team are standing on the first tee discussing how to manage healthy turfgrass at a low mowing height or how to hit a right-to-left tee shot. Scoop up and repair those divots while you share your philosophies. The next time that you and the golf pro, golf director or green-committee chair tour the course together, consider what you are doing as you talk. Instead of standing there with your hands in your pockets, seize the opportunity to repair ball marks in the green on which you're standing as you discuss upcoming plans. You may soon discover that this repair-while-you-talk action becomes contagious with your audience.

A good role model always has the proper tools on hand: a ball-mark repair tool, topdressing material and a scoop. This means having extra tools and materials on hand for others that may be with you. After all, they can't respond to those contagious urges unless they have the tools at hand.

Be sure to explain why it is important to consistently address these repairs. Color the whys with a rationale that will appeal to your audience. For example, players and pros respond more attentively to issues of playability, so cite the rules of golf that will influence their motivation. USGA rule 13-2 states that "a player shall not improve or allow to be improved: the position or lie of his ball, by any of the following actions: removing or pressing down sand, loose soil, replaced divots, other cut turf placed in position or other irregularities of surface." This simply translates to having to play a shot as it lies, even if it lands in an unrepaired divot.

If you are educating an audience more concerned with aesthetics than playability, show them. Develop a test plot with divots that you've repaired and another with divots you've left alone. Document the healing progress with a time/dated camera so others can see how much longer those unsightly divots blemish their playing surfaces when they haven't repaired them. Use your nursery or practice green to demonstrate the result of mowing unrepaired ball marks.

Educating golfers After you have educated your own staff and the pro-shop and ranger staff, it's time for you and this team of teaching advocates to focus on the golfers. However, first you must ensure they have the tools to make the repairs. Equipping the golfer starts in the pro shop. Golf operations that commit to keeping their course in quality condition recognize the benefit of providing every golfer with a complimentary ball-mark repair tool when they check in. You can purchase these tools (plastic, steel or stainless steel) in bulk for as little as 17 to 45 cents each. This is a small price to pay for providing players with the tools to repair the damage they cause.

Equip each golf cart with a divot-repair-mix container and scoop. Additionally, place divot-repair containers on all par-3 tee complexes (some tee complexes may require several) and provide a few refill containers throughout the golf course so that golfers can refill the smaller containers on their carts. The maintenance staff must monitor the supply and furnish adequate topdressing material to keep this effort going.

Now let's focus on how we educate players. As I mentioned earlier, this generally is easier to accomplish with a private-club membership than it is with other facilities. Most private clubs have a means to communicate with most of the people who play their golf course (guests are the obvious exception). Typically, the club publishes newsletters and posts bulletins in the locker rooms, and most members participate in club meetings and events. These all are great forums in which you and the pro-shop staff can promote your message.

Daily fee, municipal and resort courses find it more challenging to reach their respective golfers. These facilities also can communicate their message through posted bulletins. However, they may need to supplement that effort by placing signs in golf carts, score cards and on divot-topdress containers on the par-3 tees.

Communicating this message may require a greater effort on the part of the pro shop and rangers at these facilities, as well. In the case of municipal and daily-fee courses, men's and ladies' associations often exist, which can be an excellent forum to educate golfers. These associations typically comprise the players that frequent and care about these golf courses the most.

Another important forum for any facility is the junior golf program. We have a great opportunity to start our young and future golfers out with the proper knowledge through these programs. My 7-year-old son just attended one such program at Bayhill (Orlando, Fla.) this summer. Every evening we discussed what he had learned, and one evening he responded by informing me of the proper way to repair a ball mark. At this stage in the development of his game, it's doubtful that he's ever hit a shot that would result in a ball mark. However, at least he knows how and why he should repair one when that day comes.

Once the repair culture shows some momentum, you must maintain consistent reinforcement--you must forever be a role model. A little positive recognition can go a long way as well. Periodically thank and recognize employees, pro-shop staff, rangers or members who have embraced and demonstrated a commitment to consistent repairs. Give them an appropriate award such as a golf shirt or a Swiss-army-knife pocket repair tool at a membership, association or employee meeting. Make it meaningful and sincere.

Maintain a positive attitude throughout your efforts of education and development of this participatory culture. Try to catch people in the act of doing the right thing so that you can emphasize the positive instead of trying to police them and catch them doing the wrong thing. It's a long process, so develop realistic expectations, and do not become discouraged if you don't see significant results right away.

Gary L. Tungate is vice president of golf maintenance operations for Environmental Care Inc. (Orlando, Fla.).

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