Teach divot and ballmark etiquette

Have the golfers at your course stopped minding their manners? No need to consult Emily Post. Here's how to get them back on track.

Turf damage caused by golfers intentionally or unintentionally ignoring proper course etiquette has become a national epidemic. Adding insult to injury, many golfers boldly complain about divots and ballmarks ruining their game when they themselves are ultimately responsible for timely repairs. In other words, the Rules of Golf clearly state in Section I that, ". . . a player should ensure that any divot hole made by him and any damage to the putting green made by a ball is carefully repaired."

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A survey taken by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) shows that the most prevalent breach of course etiquette is the failure to repair ballmarks. This breach is followed closely by the failure to replace divots and to rake bunkers. Whether the damage is caused by new players just beginning to learn the game or by inconsiderate golfers who should know better, the heart of the problem can typically be found on courses with the largest volume of play.

How can damage caused by golfers be repaired? The answer may be simple. First, initiate an aggressive communications campaign targeting golfers of all skill levels. Second, set time aside to show golfers the correct way to repair the course when it is scarred by divots and ballmarks.

Heightening awareness To raise awareness of the issue, it is necessary to communicate with golfers using all available means. They need to know the scope of the damage and what they can do to help prevent it. While traveling on behalf of the USGA Green Section, I have been fortunate to observe a number of successful educational efforts made by superintendents and members of the Green Committee. The most common effort involves the use of monthly newsletters. By incorporating articles on the subject of divot and ballmark repair on a regular basis, the audience gradually becomes aware of how to repair damage during the course of a normal round.

Using a digital camera to add illustrations to newsletter articles can greatly increase their effectiveness. Add pictures depicting the severity of the damage. Concentrated divots on a tee or landing area or unrepaired ballmarks on a green are good examples. Additionally, while a picture is worth a thousand words, a two- to three-line caption describing the damage and how it can be repaired will help get the message across to golfers that refuse to sit down and read an entire article.

Another system that continues to be effective is the good old-fashioned bulletin board. The beauty of this traditional communication device is that you can easily place it just about anywhere. A popular location is in locker rooms where, cleverly positioned in front of the lavatory, it has a captive audience.

Because bulletin boards offer more space than an 81/2x11 newsletter, they are a terrific medium for larger illustrations, such as the GCSAA's poster on how to repair a ballmark. This poster shows the proper step-by-step procedure for repairing ballmarks and reminds golfers that turf will recover in half the time when they repair marks while they're still fresh. A scaled-down version of the poster can also be laminated and prominently displayed on golf carts to help remind golfers of proper etiquette while they are on the course.

Training, training, training Once you spread the message describing the importance of divot and ballmark repair, the second step is to support it with plenty of personal training. A good opportunity to provide training for golfers is during a sociable spring tournament. By waiting behind your favorite green, you and/or a Green Committee chairperson can demonstrate the proper ballmark repair technique and respond to any questions after each group has completed the hole. As a nice finishing touch, you can present a ballmark repair tool to each golfer who exhibits proficiency in the technique following the demonstration.

When instructing golfers on proper divot repair, be aware that what is good for the North is not necessarily good for the South. In the North, the proper way to repair a divot is to replace the small piece of turf and then fill in around its perimeter with a mix of soil and seed, if available, to prevent desiccation. In the South, superintendents commonly instruct golfers to discard the small piece of turf and simply fill in the divot hole with sand. Seed is not used in the divot mix because the only way that hybrid bermudagrass can be established is by sprigging or sodding.

Whether in the North, South, East or West, it is a good idea to have a large supply of repair mix available for par 3 tees. Further, mount plastic bottles filled with divot repair mix on all golf carts to encourage golfers to make needed course repairs on the fairways and rough. The repair mix typically consists of a blend of sand, peat moss, seed and a slow-release fertilizer to help speed up the recovery process. Sand mixes are usually preferred over soil because they are less likely to become caked in the bottles when the mix becomes wet.

The agronomics Sadly, many golfers believe that the issue of ballmark and divot damage would simply disappear if only the superintendent would fertilize and water more often. The reality is that there is a point where more fertilizer and water actually start to erode turf quality by promoting excessive growth and disease incidence, rather than improve it.

Golfers who enjoy playing on any one of the fine-textured creeping bentgrass cultivars have an even greater responsibility, because these varieties can take longer to recover when damaged by ballmarks. This heightened responsibility is a small price to pay given the exceptional, season-long putting quality these new grasses provide.

As the game of golf continues to become more popular, older golf courses not designed for heavy play have fallen prey to concentrated divot removal on the tees. As a result, these courses often attract strong criticism from the golfing community. When insufficient tee sizing overshadows the best efforts of both the golfers and maintenance staff, you must give serious consideration to increasing their square footage.

In conclusion, golfers really can have an impact on course conditioning if you give them the right educational materials and training. If their assistance with repairing ballmarks and divots cannot be solicited, then the burden is, sadly, left to the maintenance staff. Imagine the cost of adding two or three employees to the maintenance roster for the sole purpose of repairing damage that, according to the rules of golf, should be taken care of by golfers. Then compare that with the effort and cost of a small golfer education program. The choice is clear.

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