The Etiquetteist: When golf courses punch greens, should they warn paying customers in advance?

aerating greens

Punched greens are a necessary evil but still no fun to encounter.

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We come to you this week with a tale of crushing disappointment, suffered by a friend of the Etiquetteist who booked a tee time at a coveted course only to learn when he checked in at the pro shop that the greens had been punched and sanded.

Talk about a buzzkill.

Aside from being crestfallen, the Etiquettiest’s pal was peeved. The course, he said, had not warned him in advance. Nor was it offering discounted greens fees.

And so there he stood on the long-awaited day, being asked to pay full freight for a diminished experience. It was like buying a ticket to Disney World and discovering that half the rides were closed. It was too late to cancel or reschedule. There was little for him to do but fume.

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The course was just doing what all courses must to keep their greens healthy. Was my friend right to feel so wronged?


Just as golfers are obliged to respect the course, the ethical contract works the other way around. Nothing short of full disclosure is acceptable. The Etiquetteist checked this sentiment with several course operators, and all agreed.

“We always let our golfers know when we are aerating,” one operator said. “But we also know that not all courses do.”

Nor do all courses provide the information in the same way. Some post their aerification schedules on their websites in hard-to-find places, no more likely to be read than the fine print on a car-insurance policy. This is insufficient, no different than a golfer half-filling a divot. The course may try to cloak itself in deniability, saying that it made the information public. But, really, a good-faith effort wasn’t there.

Further muddying matters is the popularity of third-party booking services. In those cases, courses should let those brokers know, and those brokers should pass along the intel to golfers.

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Whether an aerifying course should be obliged to offer discounts is another matter.

Golfer expectations vary from one property to the next; what players will tolerate at a scruffy muni may not be the same as what they’re willing to put up with at a top-dollar resort course. What’s more, not all sanding and punching is equally disruptive. Small tine aeration with a light top-dressing might go practically unnoticed, but not punctures in the greens the size of potholes, covered in an avalanche of sand.

It is incumbent upon the course to make to make those and other details (temporary greens, for instance) as plain as possible to the golfing public, so that players can make an informed decision.

Golf isn’t always fair. On the course, we never know when the next bad break is coming. The check-in counter is a different story. There’s no reason we should not be made aware.

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