It's one of the great frustrations in golf. Golfers, superintendents, course owners, and operators all agree – unfixed ball marks suck and ruin the game.
I got an email from Pasatiempo Golf Club, a perennial top-100 golf course and an Alister MacKenzie masterpiece. MacKenzie liked the course he designed so much; he lived on the sixth hole. My friend Scott Hoyt is the General Manager, and he let loose with what I know is years of frustration managing the scourge of unfixed ball marks.
Included in the email are two gruesome photos, taken on the 18th green (a Par-3) just one week after aeration (one is a hell of a shot). Scott repaired 22 while taking this picture.
It's like a golf horror movie, isn't it?
Scott included in his email:
"I am representing all golf course operators on the planet when I say "Please repair your ball mark properly, every time you hit the green on the fly.
Excuses not accepted include:
- The course just aerated the greens.
- My ball spun off the green.
- My ball rolled to the back of the green.
- I don't know how to properly repair a ball mark.
- I was never told that I was personally responsible for my own ball mark."
I submit one Scott forgot: I don't give a damn (apologies to Clark Gable, who played golf and hopefully with a better attitude than Rhett Butler).
Scott thinks there is a bigger story here. He witnesses the Western Collegiate golf tournament every year played on his course. He observed to me privately, "I am extremely disappointed in the entire "care for the course" of the younger generation. What is more disturbing is that I do not believe they are being taught and/or reprimanded when they don't take care of the course, i.e., rake or smooth bunkers, replace divots, utilize sand/seed bottles, and repair ball marks.
"We see it every year at the Western Intercollegiate where the vast majority of the kids do not replace their divots. Pasatiempo is a divots-first course, and we meet with the coaches prior to and during every Western to get that point across. We get minimal results. The coaches all walk with the whole team during practice rounds and watch divot after divot not being replaced and say nothing.
"I spoke to an NCGA (Northern California Golf Association) official this year about how long this has now become the "culture," and he says 25 years he has been managing NCGA events, and for 25 years it has been a problem.
"It has to start with instructors, parents, coaches, professionals, first tee programs, etc., that the kids cannot even touch a club until they know how to care for the course."
Scott concludes, "It is pitiful. My father would have thrown me off the course."
I conclude, they just don’t give a damn.
There are plentiful instructional videos and articles about how to fix ball marks. I've seen courses with large "fix it" posters in the golf shop and displayed on golf carts and websites. Golf instructors teach the fix-it gospel as part of their etiquette lessons with beginners. Golf courses hand out free, logoed divot tools. It's not like the industry has not created awareness of the very minor task we ask each golfer to perform. It's just, golfers don't give a damn, that they're somehow entitled to destroy turf so lovingly cared for and expensive to repair.
I recently played at two private clubs (despite ascribing to Groucho Marx's "I would never join a club that would have me as a member," I do accept invitations). I may just as well have been playing munis. At one, an exclusive club in the Coachella Valley, my friend the GM was as frustrated as Scott. COVID prevented guests from playing until just before my arrival, so all the old marks were caused by members. He and his staff continually remind members of their responsibility to help maintain the best conditions. His maintenance staff, downsized due to the pandemic, fix what they can. He's identified the worst offenders and tried using diplomacy to change their ways, with minimal success.
We discussed a hair-brained idea – or maybe it isn't – letting one green "go" for a week and not fix a single ball mark. Cut the holes in the middle of ball mark clusters, so putting becomes a bumpy road. Create a solid visual and use it when complaints come pouring in. Sure, there'll be some cost to repair the green, but it will be well worth it if the message is received.
I have a few other ideas:
- Place messages on GPS screens and apps that appear when approaching the green – "please repair your ball mark on the green." Add another message when leaving the green complex, "Did you fix your ball mark?" It will be too late to go back and repair the damage, but you might instigate some guilt that will carry onto subsequent holes.
- I'd have new flags made. "13 – have you fixed your ball mark?"
- Institute a daily ball-mark surcharge. "Yesterday, we counted 141 unrepaired ball marks on our greens, so we've added a $1.41 surcharge for play today." Surcharges apply every day unless the daily count is zero. Private clubs could place a ball mark surcharge on monthly dues invoices. Hurting golfers in their wallets might be the best way to not only change their behavior but also motivate them to help change others'. I'm sure my PoS friends can figure out a way to include this in their programs easily.
With more people playing more rounds of golf and lots of new ones joining the game (Pellucid’s annual survey shows 2.5 million “rookies” joined the game in 2020), unfixed ball marks might multiply like dollars for PGA Tour needle-movers. It's a scourge, and I commend all course managers who blast the damage caused and shame the perpetrators. In the meantime, I'll continue to fix mine and others within easy reach. And I'll let others know they have to fix theirs too. Because if I don't, I'm complicit. And so are you.
If you have won this war, we'd like to hear how. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll publish solutions at a later date.