In a send-up of the classic hero-surveys-his-gadgets scenes in the original Naked Gun movie, Lt. Frank Drebin, played by the hilarious Leslie Nielsen, gets a tour of the new anti-crime toys his home Police Squad is rolling out. One of them is a wall that, when sprayed with graffiti, sprays the vandals right back.
Golf courses should have something like that, but for people who injure the turf and put no effort into fixing it.
In a supposedly genteel game played by earnest lovers of outdoor recreation, how is it that practically every course, from modest munis to “Top-100” private clubs, suffers from so much neglect by golfers?
Course conditions and maintenance practices have improved noticeably over the last quarter-century, but each facility still faces the same scourges: people don’t replace or fill their divots, they don’t rake bunkers and they don’t fix their ball marks on the green.
Even the earnest, charming, community-oriented Goat Hill Park showed these common signs of stress when I played there last week. If the laid-back, environmentally conscious golfers of Southern California’s surf towns can leave greens a pockmarked mess, what hope is there for the rest of us?
I know what you’re thinking. But Tim, I am a conscientious golfer! I always leave the course better than I found it.
Dear reader, I believe you. I have a sneaking suspicion that you would not have opened this half-rant, half-rallying-cry if you were one of golf’s many ne’er-do-wells who, either from laziness or a gross sense of entitlement (“I paid good money to play this course…I’ll let the greenskeeper and maintenance staff clean up after me!”), do not do their duty to help make sure the playing field is as pristine as possible.
It is easy to see golf courses as examples of the “tragedy of the commons,” a historical and economic argument that holds that common available goods tend to decay when many people have access to them. People will use that resource in a selfish way that satisfies their own needs but, when repeated by many users, ends up being contrary to the common good.
You can see how this situation plays out at practically every golf course. Replacing divots and fixing ball marks are extra tasks on top of the already difficult project of hitting that little ball toward the cup. I choose to believe that most of the neglect is oversight borne out of forgetfulness rather than active disregard. I’ll hit an approach shot that makes a mark on the edge of a green but ends up off the putting surface. This is when I’m most likely to forget to fix it, because I have probably gotten wrapped up in playing my pitch or bunker shot that I forget that I may have marred the green at all.
Back in the fairway or on the tee box of a par 3, my track record is better, but only when I’m properly equipped. What can I do when I’m carrying my bag on a course that has Bermuda fairways? What can I do on a par 3 where my divot breaks into half a dozen small shards and there’s no tub of sand beside the tee box? These are situations where course operators might seek solutions to help remind and encourage golfers to care for the course…at least until electric fence technology that can tell whether a player has not filled a divot or smoothed the sand before exiting a tee box or bunker can be fine-tuned.
But the vast majority of the blame for golf’s own tragedy of the commons rests on golfers themselves. How can we do better? And for those of us who are exemplary auxiliary Keepers of the Green, how can we get more people on our side?
This isn’t a complaint against the course so much, but they give you a repair tool to fix your ball marks on the green. EVERY SINGLE GREEN had 10-15 fresh ball marks. You can’t putt anywhere without going through old unrepaired marks. I probably repaired over 30 today.
I have a few tactics (but would prefer to hear your ideas):
One day during a high school assembly, Mr. Briggs, one of our teachers, implored us to call out students who littered with an elegant six-word phrase: “Hey bozo, I live here too!”
I think “Hey bozo, I play here too!” might be effective, especially if incorporated into signage. Picture a disheveled-looking golfer in a clown suit with those words beneath in blunt lettering. The absurdity of it would be more eye-catching than the usual boring admonition found on scorecards and golf cart placards.
Turning everything into a little contest is a very Millennial trend, I realize, but it might be effective if added into the mix of a foursome’s normal match. Next time you play, add a wrinkle that a player who hits the green in regulation must fix his or her own ball mark, plus one other. Any player who misses the green, however, must fix five ball marks.
This makes the task of caring for the course sound like a punishment, which might seem a little counter-intuitive, but if the result is smoother greens, who cares?
If you’re a member of a private club or a regular at a public course, you could institute a “Course Care Committee” that takes to the course at dusk once a month to fill divots and fix ball marks.
Make a little party out of it: the parade of golf carts setting out onto different holes, maybe a few beers (furnished by a grateful pro and/or superintendent, even, to sweeten the deal?) and everyone’s happy while improving the course.