Column: Though they try, golf superintendents can’t please everyone

For The Sun NewsMarch 25, 2013 

For golf course superintendents, preparing the playing field can feel like they are in the middle of a presidential election every day.

With so many opposing views so strongly held, the idea that they can produce an outcome that satisfies everybody is pure fantasy.

Golfers, like voters, come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of motivations and expectations.

Greens that are too fast for some are just as likely considered ideal by others.

Low-handicappers prefer tightly-cropped fairways, while most others like some growth to help tee it up.

Still, just like whoever ends up in the White House, superintendents have to make choices.

At private clubs there is often a green committee that helps set guidelines or criteria by which those decisions are made.

Effective green committees continually communicate with members to let them know what the goals are with course conditions and what’s needed to get there.

But along the Grand Strand, where the vast majority of courses are open to public play, there is often no such buffer or bridge.

Instead, superintendents are judged to be heroes or hobos purely on the basis of what’s on the ground.

Sometimes they’re both.

If you read comment cards from golfers at any course on any given day, chances are you will find one golfer complaining about an aspect of the course that another golfer praises.

Green speeds commonly generate opposing views, as do bunkers.

Better golfers mostly prefer faster greens because that narrows the margin for error, which helps reward the better putters.

Slower greens are more forgiving making life easier for less talented players.

The idea that there is such a thing as a perfect green speed is a myth.

About the nearest you may see to an optimal speed is when a course is being prepared for a tournament where the field is of uniform ability.

But even then, not everyone will play their best that day and chances are you will find the winners praising the greens while the worst will moan about them.

As a concept, consistent bunkers – where sand depth and density is the same across the course – are possible.

But as a goal, the pursuit of perfect bunkering is misguided, not to mention expensive.

Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the fact that bunkers are hazards; that is, they are areas of the course to be avoided.

Good bunkers are placed to penalize failed shots and discourage over-extending our ability.

The thought that they should be pristine and consistent misses the point.

That is not to say that bunkers can’t be in poor condition.

Too little sand on a hard base, wash outs and indistinct edges can all create unreasonable circumstances.

A far more common issue concerns the damage caused by golfers clambering up steep faces or failing to rake up their mess.

Golfer behavior can also contribute to another problem often mistakenly blamed on superintendents.

When golfer after golfer steps or stands close to the hole the cumulative compaction can cause the few inches of untouched surface directly around the cup to, in effect, rise up.

When that happens, putts that seem destined to go in can veer off at the last second, leaving a sour taste in golfers’ mouths and an extra stroke on their score.

Golfers can help themselves and their kind by being careful to minimize traffic within a foot of the hole.

Superintendents, like elected officials, understand they cannot please all the people all the time.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t try or that they couldn’t do with help from the very people they are working to please, and that of course means golfers.

TRENT BOUTS edits Carolinas Green magazine for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association and consulted with members of the Palmetto Golf Course Superintendents Association for this column. He writes a monthly column that appears in The Sun News the last Tuesday of each month.

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