Why every day should be 'Thank a Golf Course Superintendent Day' - and how you can participate

September 12 is the 'official' day, but golfers need to make greenkeepers' lives easier every day.
They're up before dawn to make sure the golf courses we play are presentable and fun. We all owe superintendents and their staffs a debt of thanks every time we tee it up.

(Updated: September, 2023.)

September 12 has been designated by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America as "Thank a Golf Course Superintendent Day." But really, every day when the sun rises and golfers step on a tee box should be a chance to make the lives of the folks who prepare the playing surfaces for our rounds just a little easier.

But unfortunately, over the course of my travels this year, a different four-word phrase has kept popping into my head:

Golfers are thoughtless everywhere.

I take no pleasure in reaching that conclusion, but there's overwhelming evidence of it everywhere: unfixed ball marks marring otherwise superb putting surfaces, unfilled divots spoiling otherwise strong tee box turf and unraked bunkers galore. And no one type of course is immune: I've seen mass mistreatment of municipal courses, resort layouts and even expensive private clubs.

During a round at the Slammer & Squire at World Golf Village in April 2022, I nearly lost my mind at what I saw on the par-3 sixth tee. That morning, the Florida State Golf Association had held a qualifier at the course for its annual Mid-Amateur match play championship, and had placed a large plastic bucket full of divot mix beside the tee markers. That afternoon, when my group arrived, barely a quarter of the field had bothered to take the three seconds' care required to repair the bruised turf.

Noticing the unacceptable scene, the following day the FSGA sent a stern email to the qualifier's competitors admonishing them for not properly caring for the golf course, even going so far as to say that they would be penalizing players for future neglectful inaction. Good on them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a doubly stressful impact on agronomy teams. Rounds have surged in the last two years, meaning less daylight time for maintenance teams to work on the golf course. At the same time, economic factors like short staffing have made it harder than ever for those teams to recruit and retain sufficient labor. For a few dozen competitive amateur golfers, all of whom should know better, to fail to do the bare minimum when it comes to leaving the course the way they found it, it's undoubtedly a demoralizing slight to a group of people who often wake up in darkness to provide the best possible playing conditions.

For the most part, superintendents are both too nice and too busy to speak out against golfers' thoughtlessness when it comes to basic course-care etiquette. What's more, offenders almost never get called out for neglect by management, either, because conflict-averse course operators are afraid of losing business behind such confrontation.

As a long, busy summer has dragged on with record play stressing turf and trying the patience of all golf course workers, many superintendents are turning to one another for support, via social media and even video-chat venting sessions.

"Many of us carry tremendous amounts of stress because so much of what we do is out of our control despite the best planning efforts," said Tony Nysse, formerly the director of golf course & grounds at Mountain Lake, one of Florida's top clubs. "We rely on communicating so much among ourselves regarding the job, the stresses and how we can become more efficient in any task that we do."

While the people who prepare fairways and greens for you and me fight to keep up with mounting challenges, it's on you and me and our fellow conscientious golfers to pitch in. Here's how.

Ball marks on the green: If you see nothing, say something

The truth is that most golfers are not actively malicious, but rather forgetful or generally too wrapped-up in their own play to fix ball marks. If you fancy yourself a conscientious course steward, gentle reminders to your buddies when they're waiting to putt are welcome.

Fixing divots in fairways or on tee boxes: Do unto others

If I'm sitting in our golf cart while a playing partner hits, I try to pop out of the cart with the divot mix bottle to throw down some sand so that he or she can put his or her club away. This usually prompts reciprocation when I hit. It's also generally a nice way to exchange some good feelings by helping each other out, and it teaches a sense of collective responsibility that is sorely lacking among current golfers.

Guide new golfers

With millions of people either taking up the game for the first time or turning a curiosity into a full-blown passion in the last two years, the lack of formal onboarding process around golf etiquette has never been more apparent. New golfers simply don't know what they don't know, so the responsibility falls to those of us who know better to coach them on how to take care of the golf course. People new to any hobby are eager to fit in, and as long as you deliver guidance with good cheer, they'll be grateful for it.

Maintaining a golf course is hard work. It takes dedication and juggling of a dozen or more types of tasks and factors. Despite the pressures of increased recent play, the standard of golf course maintenance has never been higher.

"It’s quite a juggling act to present a golf course that is appreciated by someone who has been golfing for 30+ yrs or someone who picked up the game during COVID," said Tony Nysse. "Same can be said about presenting a golf course that is valued by the scratch golfer along with the 20+ handicap."

I have been consistently floored at how good conditions have been everywhere from big-time private clubs to city municipal courses. Never has the hard work that golf course superintendents do been more valuable, or more worthy of our efforts to be strong allies and stewards of the places where we play.

"A positive comment or sign of appreciation goes a long way," said Nysse. "Almost as far as fixing a ball mark, filling a divot or raking a bunker."

5 Min Read
September 12, 2018
Nobody likes playing golf on punched greens, but they're a vital practice
July 27, 2018
Read more about golf course maintenance and agronomy.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
Commented on

The unsung heroes of golf courses are the superintendents, and I was happy
to see your article shed light on their importance and contribution to any golf club.
I often ask myself who is more important: the pro or the superintendent. The answer
may be the latter if you consider the bottom-line success of the operation, although
I do not mean to underestimate the impact a good pro makes. But a smart, educated,
and capable superintendent can change the course of a foundering situation.

And true, golfer etiquette plays a huge part in course presentation on a day-to-day basis.
Your point about conflict-averse course managers is a strong one because this aversion (to handling problems directly) allows slow play, unfortunately, to flourish.

I find it shameful that more golfers can't follow the simple rules of golf etiquette, and it reflects, simply, on their lack of character.

Commented on

A good reminder. Note, however, that at my club we are asked not to fill tee box divots. Care of the par-three tee boxes is the purview of the maintenance team and is intended to prevent mounding.

Commented on

Fair enough, John. In my experience, clubs like yours are in the minority. Hopefully your fellow members shift extra attention from divot-filling to fixing ball marks on the greens!

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Why every day should be 'Thank a Golf Course Superintendent Day' - and how you can participate