May 17, 2015

Grassroots Issues: Striping It

Does it matter the way a fairway is mowed?

Fifty years ago, when golf-course mowers had the wingspan of a Piper Cub, fairways were quickly cut down one side and up the other. The half that was mowed toward the green looked shiny, and the other half darker. In the 1970s, smaller, lightweight mowers were used for tighter cuts. Superintendents suddenly became artists, mowing stripes and even checkerboard patterns on their holes. But in recent years, some have reverted to the "half-and-half" method, saying diagonal stripes require constant turns in rough, damaging it. Others say the older method concentrates wear and tear in front of greens. So we asked our panel of experts: Is half-and-half mowing or striping patterns better? And can we get more roll if we drive it down the shiny side?

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Some say there is a time-and-cost savings doing a half-and-half cut. I put a GPS data logger on one of our mowers and did it both ways and found there really wasn't much difference in time. Either method cuts the turf and makes fairways very playable. There is no right or wrong method. Just different methods.

Rick Tegtmeier, Des Moines Golf And Country Club

Striping can look attractive but might not be the quickest way to get fairway mowers out of the way of players.

Josh Heptig, San Luis Obispo (Calif.) County Golf Courses

Stripes are expensive and labor-intensive. We changed our mowing pattern from stripes to a classic cut, and that will save over 300 man-hours a year and reduce our fuel by more than 800 gallons of diesel. With our fairways mowed at .45 of an inch, there really isn't that much grass blade to lay over. But if someone is good enough to hit it down the left side of a fairway and get 20 more yards out of a drive, they deserve to be rewarded.

Paul Carter, Bear Trace At Harrison Bay, Tenn.

I have never seen a study that says a ball rolls farther on the shiny side. When it comes to championship conditions, the mowing heights today are so low, if there were any extra roll with the grain, it would be minimal, not measurable or consistent.

Curtis Tyrrell, Medinah (Ill.) Country Club

I have seen no problem with turns in the approach area. We teach our crew members to take long, swooping turns so they don't tear the turf.

Troy Flanagan, The Olympic Club, San Francisco

When I came here, the fairways were cut clockwise every day, so the left and right side grain was burned in. The ball would roll 10 to 15 yards farther on the left side than the right. My predecessor didn't play golf! We still mow our fairways half and half, but alternate directions each day so the grass is upright.

Ken Mangum, Atlanta Athletic Club

We mow half and half. Turning mowers is very abrasive on rough grass. Take a little sand and rub it on your cheek eight to 10 times and see how that feels. That's what the grass experiences every time a mower turns. When I was working at Augusta National in the 1980s, Jack Nicklaus observed that his ball rolled farther on the light versus the dark side. I thought, Really? But sure enough, when we Stimped the fairways, we found he was right. So we now mow clockwise one day and counterclockwise the next to avoid that situation.

Matt Shaffer, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.

One will experience issues of wear no matter how the fairways are mowed. I'd rather manage mower turns in the rough as opposed to in front of the green, where players often try to land and release balls onto the putting surface.

We stripe our fairways and vary the patterns daily to encourage upright growth.

John Zimmers, Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club

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