Have you ever wondered how and why the fairways and greens at your local golf club always look so perfectly manicured? Long before you’ve even thought about waking up, the most important people in all of the golfing industry have been hard at work; yep, that’s right, the greenkeepers.
Up and starting work at ridiculous hours of the morning, greenskeepers have been mowing, cutting, watering, raking, and flattening greens and fairways all for one reason; to make your round an enjoyable one.
Without greenskeepers, we’d be playing golf on unkept greens and fairways, making golf less pleasant and one terrible eyesore. In this article, I thought it was about time we paid tribute and showed some recognition to greenskeepers all around the globe; whether at your local club or Augusta National, the life of a greenskeeper often goes unnoticed.
So keep reading on and learn what greenkeepers do, how much they’re paid, their roles and responsibilities, and what life on a golf course would be like without them.
What do Greenskeepers Actually Do?
According to the Collins Dictionary, a greenskeeper is defined as. “the person in charge of maintaining the turf, bunkers, etc., of a golf course.”
Greenskeepers generally work under the direction of what we refer to as the Course Superintendent. The superintendent takes direction from the Director of Golf, and depending on the size of the club, other roles may also be part of the greenskeeping department. Budget is probably the most significant determining factor in how many greenskeepers each course actually has, but generally, you’d expect to see a Superintendent and 5 to 10 greenskeepers.
What exactly do greenskeepers do, you might be asking? The answer is a lot more than you probably expected. Greenskeepers roles and responsibilities are varied and include several different tasks, all of which are centered around making the course look immaculate and perfectly presented for patrons.
- Planting and repairing turf
- Watering fairways and greens
- Setting and cutting holes for new pin positions.
- Landscaping duties
- Operating mowers and cutters
- Maintaining fairways, greens, and bunkers
Now that we’ve looked at some of the everyday duties and roles greenskeepers perform, let’s look at the more significant tasks they’re responsible for.
Immaculate Fairways and Lightning Quick Greens
Do you know the names of your local course superintendent or greenkeepers? Chances are probably not, although I must say I do know the name of my head greenskeeper; thanks, Johnny, for keeping the course in pristine condition all-year-round.
Just as a Head Professionals reputation lies in the quality of work they’re known for, the same rings true for greenskeepers. Ever played a golf course with poorly maintained fairways and greens? There’s nothing worse, but to be fair, in this case, it might not be the fault of the greenkeepers; actually, more often than not, the condition of the course comes down to budget, not the quality of staff.
Although greenskeepers have a number of different roles and responsibilities, their primary role is to maintain the course, specifically the fairways, bunkers, and greens.
Here are some of the daily tasks greenskeepers undertake
- Making sure that the teeing areas are mowed and cleared of debris such as leaves, twigs, and broken tees from the previous day’s play
- Keeping the fairways and rough maintained so they are easily identifiable
- Keeping the greens in immaculate condition, making sure all ball marks are fixed, and then mowing and rolling the greens to ensure consistent quality and speed; this can be much more challenging for courses located in harsh climates.
- Maintaining the bunkers, which includes raking the sand, replacing sand if needed, and trimming the edges.
- Replacing and repairing divots from the previous day’s play. Ask any greenskeeper, and they’ll tell you this is their “pet-peeve” with golfers. As golfers, we must replace our divots or at least fill them with our sand buckets, but unfortunately, some golfers fail to do so.
- Keeping the practice range and practice greens in tip-top shape; this can include measuring distances to pins, cutting and mowing, rolling and cutting new pin positions.
- Maintaining the putting green is crucial because it needs to match the speed of the greens on the course; there’s nothing worse than putting on slow greens before the round only to find lightning-quick greens out on the course; this is a recipe for three-putt heaven.
- Overseeing the aeration and seeding of new grasses, particularly in times of seasonal change and for those courses located in harsh conditions.
- General landscaping duties such as clearing leaves, watering trees and garden beds and maintaining ponds and water hazards.
Now that you have seen just some of the duties your local greenskeepers perform, hopefully, you have a better appreciation for just how tough their job can be.
Maintaining Greens and Green Speed
Have you ever heard of the saying “drive for show and putt for dough”? It’s not only PGA Tour pros who understand the importance of the greens, ask any of the greenskeepers, and most of them will tell you that keeping the greens in mint condition is their main priority.
Many greenskeepers take great pride in maintaining beautifully manicured greens because they know it’s the one area of the course that can make or break a sizzling round.
Now when it comes to the greens, the most important factor is the speed and consistency. To find the speed of the greens, a stimpmeter is used. The greenskeeper needs to find a flat area on the green and then place the ball in a small notch in the stimpmeter. He slowly lifts up until the ball rolls down the stimpmeter and comes to a stop. The greenskeeper repeats this process 3 times and takes the average measurement.
The vast majority of greens at your local clubs probably run somewhere between 9 and 10. More exclusive and high-profile clubs run between 10-12, and on the PGA Tour, greens can run at 13 and even 14.
If the greens are running too fast, staff can either mow them in another direction or give them a light sprinkle to slow them down. For example, if a club tournament is being played for high-handicappers, the greenskeepers will try to keep the greens as slow as possible; the opposite will be true for a top amateur or pro event, in which case the greens will be as fast as possible.
Cutting New Pin Positions
Now for those of you who may be new to golf, you might not realize that most clubs change their pin positions at least every couple of days, depending on how many golfers have been out on the course. My home club has two courses, the West Course and the East Course, and pin placements are changed every other day.
The reason pin placements are regularly changed is two-fold.
- Changing pin placements helps keep the green in tip-top position and keeps the greens from getting torn up.
- New pin positions can make the hole either more challenging or easier depending on where the pin is placed.
Generally, at PGA Tour events, pins are placed in more accessible positions over the first two rounds of the tournament, with the 3rd and final rounds seeing pins set in diabolical positions. Most golf clubs will provide players with a “pin position” sheet which will clearly show the golfer where each pin has been cut for today’s round.
My club uses a zone numbered system 1-2-3.
- Zone 1 pins are cut at the front of the green.
- Zone 2 pins are cut in the middle of the green and
- Zone 3 pins are cut at the back of the green.
Knowledge of 5 Common Kinds of Grass
Every golf course you play has various types of grasses, and greenskeepers are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of each and every one. The last thing that any superintendent wants to see is dead grass on the fairways and greens. Not only can dead grass be almost impossible to repair, but the cost involved in purchasing new turf can also run into the 100s of thousands of dollars.
Here is a list of the five most common types of grasses you’ll find on different golf courses across the globe.
If you’ve watched golf long enough, you’ve probably heard PGA Tour players talking to their caddies about the grain of the grass; the grass they’re referring to is “Bermuda.” A very durable grass that grows well in dry regions, Bermuda can cause havoc for players on the greens and fairways.
Typically chipping into the grain can cause the club to get “snagged,” which can lead to a flubbed shot. On the greens, putting with or against the grain can make a massive difference to the speed of the putt. A good rule of thumb is if the green is shiny, you’re putting with the grain, and if it’s dull, you’re putting against the grain.
Bentgrass is a type of grass that loves cooler climates, although variants can be found on golf courses in warmer climates like Florida or Northern parts of Australia. Unlike Bermuda, Bentgrass has very little grain and, because of that, is absolutely perfectly suited for both greens and fairways.
The grass can become slightly brown in color during the summer months, but that is not an indication of the grass dying. Bentgrass plays quite soft because of the amount of water needed to keep the grass in mint condition. My home course uses Bentgrass on the greens, and let me tell you; they are a thing of beauty to putt on.
There’s nothing worse than seeing you’re ball rolling off the fairway and into the Fescue. Found primarily on “links-style” courses, Fescue runs wild and needs very little maintenance, and because of that, it’s ideally suited for the rough areas just off the fairways and around the greens.
But Fescue is also a versatile grass, and variants can be used for greens and fairways. The grass needs minimal upkeep, which makes it a favorite amongst superintendents and greenskeepers alike. Fescue grows very slowly and, if used on fairways, runs hard and fast precisely like those used on the courses for the Britsh Open.
Zoysia is often referred to as “soldier grass” because it grows and stands dead straight in all seasons. If you want the best lies you can find on any fairways, then look for courses that use Zoysia; if you’ve played on fairways that use Zoysia, you almost feel as though you’re cheating; the lies are that good.
Zoysia grows well in warm climates, requires very minimal water and because of that, the fairways and greens run hard and fast. Zoysia also has very little grain, making maintenance a breeze compared to other grasses like Bermuda. The only downside is that because the blades of grass are so tight, your ball can come to a stop very quickly; this is not a concern for pros but for high-handicappers, this can cause a significant problem.
Poa Annua is undoubtedly the grass that the pros despise the most, and to be honest, I have to agree. Poa Annua grows incredibly fast, which means the same greens can play much slower later in the day than when the first group teed off in the morning.
Ok, so we might be going a bit hard on Poa Annua; the grass does have a couple of significant advantages, such as being resilient and durable, and it does grow well in damp climates. The greens at Winged Foot are Poa Annua, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find better greens anywhere in the world.
Want to be a Greenskeeper? Here’s How
So as you’re reading this, you might be thinking that you’d like to become a greenskeeper. I mean, think about it; you already love golf, so what better way to earn a living than being out in the fresh air and spending your time around the game you love.
As with any profession, becoming a greenskeeper takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Many golf clubs and national governing bodies offer 3-years apprenticeships for those wishing to get started in the profession.
Universities also offer bachelor’s degrees in Horticulture and Landscaping, which might be a better route for those looking to climb up the ranks and be a Course Superintendent.
If you are thinking about a career as a greenkeeper, be sure to research the educational pathways you can take thoroughly. Reach out to your local golf club and even talk to your course greenskeepers and superintendent; once they know you’re interested in becoming “one of them,” they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
10 Greenskeeping Terms you Need to Know
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and become a greenskeeper; well, before you get started, here are ten greenskeeping terms that you’ll need to know.
- Aerate: To expose the grass to air or cause air to circulate through it.
- Dormant: Grass that is dormant, is not active, growing, or being used at present but is capable of becoming active later on.
- Stimpmeter: A device used in golf to measure the speed of a putting green.
- Hydroseeding: A planting process that uses a slurry of seed and mulch, including fertilizer-tackifying agents, fiber mulch, and green dye.
- Grain: The grain of grass refers to the direction of its growth.
- Topsoil: The upper layer of soil, which is usually darker and richer in color than the subsoil and surface soil.
- Topdressing: Topdressing evens out slight shallows, filling any cracks, and generally improves soil structure and health of the lawn over time.
- Parasite: An organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host; parasites can cause havoc on golf courses if not eradicated in a timely manner
- Fertigation: To fertilize and irrigate simultaneously by adding fertilizers to the water supply.
- Winterkill: To kill by or die from exposure to the cold of winter.
Is Greenskeeping a Good Job?
If you love working outside and you love the wonderful game of golf, then greenskeeping could be the right job for you. Generally, greenskeepers start very early in the morning and are finished by 2 or 3 pm. Greenskeeping is physically demanding, especially if you live in climates that are hot and humid or cold all year round.
What do Superintendents Do?
Put simply, the Course Superintendent is in charge of the greenskeeping department for the golf course. Typically they oversee much more extensive projects, though; that being said, they have already attained the highest greenskeeping accreditation and are highly regarded amongst their peers.
Examples of projects they manage are:
- Getting the course ready for major events
- Overseeing the irrigation and seeding calendar
- Managing the greenkeeping staff and are responsible for rosters, budget, and scheduling meetings
- Liaising with board members, club members, local associations, and committee members to inform them of any course changes that may affect upcoming events.
How Much Money do Greenskeepers Make?
How much you make as a greenskeeper will depend on factors like your qualifications, experience, and the club you’re employed at.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for greenskeepers is $32,360 per year or $15.56 per hour.
- Greenskeepers who have university qualifications can earn up to $97,000, and those superintendents who are in charge of PGA Tour courses can make between a whopping $100,000 to $150,000 per annum.
The 18th Hole
Next time you’re out playing on the beautifully manicured fairways, and greens, stop to give thanks to the greenskeepers. A simple, “thanks, mate” or a wave can go a long way in showing greenskeepers how much you genuinely appreciate the work they put in.
Greenskeeping is also an excellent career choice for those who love golf or even those who love the great outdoors. You get to start in the crisp morning air and finish by 3 pm, meaning you can play 18 holes after you’re done.