‘The bane of our existence’:  The trouble with ball marks, according to a superintendent

golfer repairing ball mark

How much damage an unrepaired ball mark does depends on a range of variables, including climate, season and green firmness.

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Nice shot!

That’s another green in regulation.

And another ball mark you’ll need to repair.

If you’re like an unfortunate number of golfers, you will neglect this duty, or perform it incorrectly, driving a superintendent batty.

“It’s the bane of our existence,” says Jeremy Hreben, superintendent at Indian Spring Country Club, in New Jersey, and a longtime member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

As Hreben sees it, an unfixed ball mark is a sign of disrespect to maintenance staff, who work long and hard to spit-shine course conditions. More than that, though, it’s a kind of self-inflected wound, as you’re worsening the very grounds on which you play.

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How much damage a ball mark does depends on a range of variables, including climate, season and green firmness. In some cases, the turf suffers injury. In others, it gets torn up altogether. If not properly repaired, those marks cause bumpiness and blotchiness that can take a week or more to heal. In the worst instances, the ground will need to be re-seeded or sodded.

What to do?

A lot of superintendents strive to educate golfers by way of email blasts and social media. This can be helpful. It can also backfire, especially at private clubs.

“Sometimes, the response is basically, ‘Why are you bothering us with this?’” Hreben says. “We pay you to take care of this stuff.”

This column is a safer place to lay down guidelines.

For starters, you need to have good intentions. Aim to repair your ball mark and at least one other. Now, make sure you’re doing the job right.

Using your divot repair tool (in a pinch, a tee will also work, but the proper implement is better), start at the high side of the ball mark. Stick the tool into turf and lean the top gently toward the center of the mark, taking care not to twist or turn. Repeat this process, working around the circumference.

golfer repairing ball mark
Lean the top of your repair tool gently toward the center of the mark, taking care not to twist getty images

All too often, Hreben notes, golfers dig down and lift from the bottom. Like a lot of bad habits, this is one that many people pick up from watching TV. Digging down and lifting up only compounds the damage by severing the roots from the turf.

“You’re basically trying to fill in that gap by moving the roots gently, not tearing them,” Hreben says.

Do this carefully and correctly, and your mark will be all but unnoticeable.

Your superintendent will thank you. Your fellow golfers will be grateful, too.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.