Golf Course Maintenance FAQs

What is the difference between a golf course superintendent and a green keeper?
Green keeper, often times used incorrectly as greens keeper (adding an “s” between green and keeper), was the original title given to the person responsible for the maintenance of a golf course. When the title came into use, the primary responsibility of a green keeper was maintaining the turf on the golf course. In the last three decades, the responsibilities of the position have greatly expanded. In addition to their turf responsibilities, modern superintendents must also be experts in accounting, personnel management, and environmental and safety regulations. The term green keeper is used more prevalently in Europe.

I play at several different golf courses, and they all seem to have different rules on replacing divots. Why?
Rules for replacing divots are designed to speed the recovery of turf damaged by a golf shot and are based on the type of grass used on the golf course. The best advice is to check with the superintendent or read the posted course rules. Typically, a divot is replaced on any course with bentgrass or bluegrass fairways. In bermudagrass fairways, generally just sand is used. Special adherence must be paid when the types of grasses differ in the fairway and rough. Research has shown that a repair ball mark takes 2-3 days to heal properly, while an unrepaired ball mark takes 15-20 days to heal properly.

What is a Stimpmeter?
A Stimpmeter is basically a ramp that allows for the consistent and fair measurement of green speed on a particular course. It was never intended to compare speed on different courses, thus it is incorrectly misused by many. A notch at the top of the Stimpmeter holds a golf ball in place until the instrument is lifted to a standard height. When released, the ball rolls down a groove on the Stimpmeter and onto the green. The distance the ball rolls, in feet, is the speed or “stimp” reading for the green. For accuracy, several readings are taken from different directions and averaged. The instrument was named after Edward Stimpson, who loved golf and wanted to create a measure of fairness.

When someone talks about the grain of grass, especially on a putting green, what do they mean?
Grain refers to the tendency of a species of grass to grow in a certain direction. Exposure to sunlight at only certain times is one factor that will control the grain of grass. Much has been said and written about grain and how it impacts putting. Because superintendents rotate mowing patterns, a single pattern of grain generally is not established. At professional championship competition where greens are mowed to 1/8 inch, the short leaf blade exhibits no (or insignificant) grain pattern that would affect putting.

What is a “push up” putting green?
Early golf courses were built from a mixture of soil, organic matter and sand from the sight of construction. Often times the soil was pushed up and the greens were somewhat rounded in nature to construct a surface that promoted the drainage/runoff of water. While many courses still feature these type of greens, others have renovated greens to “USGA specifications” to provide a better surface.

What is a “USGA specification” green?
As traffic increased on the golf courses, putting greens began to show an inability to handle this wear and compaction that inhibited drainage. In the 1940s, the United States Golf Association (USGA) began studying “good” and “bad” greens. In 1960, the USGA Green Section introduced a green construction that introduced sand as the principal component of root zone mix to provide adequate drainage and resistance to compaction. The USGA green also incorporated a perched water table to provide a reservoir of moisture for use by turf. It was found that this construction principle provided good results for courses in most regions of the United States and the world. A cross section of this construction would show stratified layers of soil, sand, gravel and organic matter. The base of the green includes a network of pipes to facilitate drainage. The USGA and GCSAA have continued to study green construction as new methods of maintenance have been introduced and mowing heights have gone down even more.

How do trees affect the quality of a putting green?
Golf course superintendents are constantly monitoring the amount of tree coverage on the course because of its impact on turf conditions. It has been found that the better greens have better air circulation. Since trees reduce air flow, it is quite predictable to have found that poorer greens have generally more trees surrounding them. Often times courses will place fans around greens in heavily treed areas to promote circulation. Also, tree roots growing through soils under greens have a negative impact on surface quality.

What is topdressing?
It is the maintenance practice of spreading matter over a putting green to level and smooth the surface. It also has the effect of improving drainage, controlling thatch and maintaining biological balance. The substance spread may be sand, or a prepared mixture of any or all of clay, silt, sand and organic matter.

What is core aeration and why is it done?
Core aeration (also know as aerification, aerating, aerifying) is a maintenance practice that promotes healthy turf growth, especially in compacted surfaces such as putting greens. A machine, known as an aerifier, removes 3 inches to 5 inches long and 1/2-inch to 1-inch diamater cores of turf and soil. Usually done on an annual basis in conjunction with overseeding activities, aeration is the means to promote growth in compacted soils (due to heavy traffic or bad soil composition). The removal of cores allows water, air and nutrients to reach the soil roots, thereby enhancing growth.

What is a frost delay?
Golf course superintendents will delay the start of play when frost covers the playing surface. Frost is actually frozen dew. Because a grass blade is mostly water, it freezes as well when frost is present, making it very brittle. By walking on frost covered grass, the leaf blades break and cells rupture. The result is that the grass turns brown and eventually dies, making it susceptible to disease and weed infestation. Golf course superintendents do not like frost delays any more than golfers because the frost prevents them from undertaking maintenance activities.

How do I build a putting green in my backyard?
GCSAA Information Services has several articles available on constructing and maintaining backyard putting greens. E-mail your request to infobox@gcsaa.org. Be sure to include your mailing address.

Can golf courses be built and maintained without threatening the environment?
Millions of dollars in research over the past two decades has been conducted on the impact of golf courses on the environment. The research results confirm that properly managed golf courses are environmental assets. Golf courses are tremendous economic assets, as well as vital greenspaces for communities. They employ hundreds of thousands of people, enhance local economies through tax revenues and tourism, and provide many ecological benefits. For example, golf courses help filter air pollutants and create fresh oxygen; they are excellent groundwater recharge sites; and most important, they are critical wildlife sanctuaries in urban and suburban areas. The golf industry made major gains in this area with the development of “The Environmental Principles for Golf Courses.” This joint, three-year project resulted in the development of guidelines for the siting, building and maintenance of golf courses. Nearly 20 allied associations such as GCSAA, USGA, Audubon International, Environmental Protection Agency, among others, participated.