It’s a golden rule of golf: Always leave the course in better condition than how you found it. But even those of us with good intentions often fail to carry out basic maintenance tasks correctly.
In an informal (and anonymous) survey, we asked a half-dozen superintendents across the U.S. to count the ways that golfers get course upkeep wrong. Here are seven common course-care cockups — and how to do the jobs right.
1. Repairing pitch marks
What too many golfers do: Jam their divot repair tool underneath the ball mark and lift the soil to level it. Like a bad acne treatment, this leaves a scar.
What you should do: Work your divot repair tool in a circle around the edges of the ball mark, gently pulling the turf toward the center until the crater is closed.
Superintendent says: “We can blame PGA Tour pros for this one. Most of them do it incorrectly on TV.”
2. Filling divots
What too many golfers do: Over- or under-fill the divot, creating either a bump or a depression when the grass grows back.
What you should do: Fill the divot with sand or sand/seed mixture until it is level with the surrounding turf, then tamp the filling down gently with your foot to smooth it out.
Superintendent says: “This one is so easy, a 4-year-old child could do it. I wish we had more 4-year-olds playing our course.”
3. Replacing divots
What too many golfers do: Nothing. Or they collect tiny shards of turf and tamp them down haphazardly into the divot hole, where they’ll have little to no chance of taking root again.
What you should do: Assuming that the toupee of turf is still intact, replace it, ideally in the same direction that it was laying before you tore it up. Then tamp it down gently with your foot to help its roots reconnect with the soil.
Superintendent says: “If you can’t do it right, better to do nothing. Think of the golfer playing behind you. They’d rather play out of a divot than out of one filled with scraps.”
4. Raking bunkers
What too many golfers do: Take a passing swipe at the sand with their feet or a club, or drag the rake lazily behind them, like a petulant child doing a household chore.
What you should do: If you’ve made deep footprints, start by smoothing them over with the back of the rake. Then flip the rake around and, using long sweeping motions, finish smoothing the sand as you backtrack out of the bunker, covering your steps as you go.
Superintendent says: “And don’t forget to tap the sand off your shoes before you tramp out onto the green.”
5. Entering and exiting bunkers
What too many golfers do: Take the shortest route to the ball, even if it means stomping up and down the steep side of the bunker, leaving deep footprints and triggering avalanches along the way.
What you should do: Get in and out on the low side, even if it’s not the closest point to your ball
Superintendent says: “What do you think this is, mountain climbing?”
6. Replacing flagsticks
What too many golfers do: Leave the flagstick leaning, which can damage the edges of the hole.
What you should do: Return the base of the pole securely into the hole at the bottom of the cup
Superintendent says: “I can’t believe I have to even say this but … make sure the thing is standing up straight.”
7. Retrieving balls from the cup
What many golfers do: Force their hand into the cup while the flagstick is still in it, damaging the edge of the cup. Or, dig the ball out with their putter blade, which has the same effect.
What you should do: If the flagstick is still in, remove it, then reach down and pull the ball out — with your hand.
Superintendent says: “The theme of this entire article should basically be, ‘Stop being so damn lazy!’”