Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Archive for March, 2011

Raise your hand if you’re a fast golfer

By Mary Armstrong  published in the Las Cruces Sun News – 3/26/2011

A year ago, in one of my first articles for this column, I wrote about the “Bogey Boogie”.  It was my take on speeding up a round of golf.  I tried to show there was nothing magical or even uncomfortable about fast play.  My take was, and continues to be: you just need to focus on being ready when it’s your turn to play.  Really, there’s no need to invent new methods and certainly not to run, as I have seen some do, although a brisk walk would be appreciated. 

Golf etiquette isn’t so much about being nice to your fellow competitors as it is a prescription for everyone’s enjoyment of the game.  “The overriding principle is that consideration should be shown to others on the course at all times.” This statement is taken from The Rules of Golf Section l Etiquette.  For the average player, knowing etiquette is perhaps even more important than knowing the rules.  In fact, many believe that novice players should be introduced to the game through its etiquette.

In Sweden, a player must be certified before he/she can make a tee time.  The certification isn’t just a basket-weaving course either.  It requires classroom work, an examination and a lesson from a golf professional. 

“Back in the day”, we would play on weekdays with a foursome in about three hours to three hours and fifteen minutes.  Weekends might stretch out to three forty five, but we would never dream of playing in four hours.  Things have changed.  Today, it’s hard to find anyone that could imagine playing a round of golf in under 4 hours.  The problem has been analyzed to death, but the fact remains, three million golfers walk away from the game each year and slow play or the amount of time it takes to play a round are among the leading reasons.  There are approximately 20,000 golf facilities in the United States.  So, on average there are 150 players that leave for each course in the nation.  It’s doubtful that every one of these patrons are avid players, but even if you assume the players that quit would play only half dozen rounds per year, that amounts to over $30,000 in lost revenue.  Add in carts, an occasional pro shop purchase, beverages and a sandwich after and you’re talking some real money.  In this economy – in any economy for that matter – the golf business can’t afford to lose that kind of money.  But, there must be a cost – right?  Otherwise golf operators would have fixed it. 

One factor is the “I’m fast – you’re slow syndrome”.  A few years back, conducted a survey to rate a respondent’s perceived pace of play versus other golfers:

Q: How would you rate your own pace of play?

Fast: 57.8 percent

Average: 37.4 percent

Slow: 4.8 percent

Q: How would you rate most golfers’ pace of play?

Slow: 56.2 percent

Average: 41.8 percent

Fast: 2.0 percent

Dean Knuth, former USGA handicapping expert and Golf Digest writer, says that he has interviewed slow groups.  What he found was that groups that were at least one hole behind are largely unaware that they were slow or they didn’t care – duh! 

The fastest group on your course can only be as fast as the slowest group on your course.  If people knew how to let faster groups through, this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, but since the last time I went through a slow group was at least a decade ago, maybe we can eliminate that as a factor.

Actually, it only takes about an hour to play 18 holes, which is to say the actual playing of the strokes.  The rest of the time – 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours is what Knuth calls “logistical positioning” or getting to the next shot and selecting the right equipment.  So, it is this “logistical positioning” that has the greater opportunity for improvement.

Knuth observed this about male versus female groups:

“Two days spent following groups at Torrey Pines outside San Diego and a day watching resort golfers at Pebble Beach showed that average men are as likely to be slow as high-handicap women. A short-hitting woman typically will walk right up to her ball and hit it again. The slow-playing men were very deliberate on every stroke, often taking two or more practice swings. They would stand and watch each shot until it stopped and then slowly put the club away and move on. When I approached them to say that I was from the USGA and that I had determined that they were a slow group, they were shocked. Typical response: ‘I’ve never been told that I’m slow, and I don’t believe it.’ Or there was indignation: ‘I paid good money to enjoy my round, and I deserve to take as much time as I need.’ ”

Apparently being labeled as slow is hideous, but not hideous enough to do something about it.

Next week: What can be done about slow play.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Aeration improves playing conditions, golf experience

By Mary Armstrong – Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 3/18/2011

“Spring is sprung, the grass has riz’, I wonder where my golf ball is.”  This quote, corny as it is, was always on my coach’s spring newsletter to our golf team.  Unfortunately it has stuck with me.  Regardless of its corniness, it brings to mind our high school golf seasons which always began in early spring in Iowa (at least back then) and nearly always included at least one match that was canceled due to snow.  My excitement for being on the course was hardly ever matched by good playing conditions.  The situation required a serious attitude adjustment about expectations.

Fortunately, here in southern New Mexico, spring golf is a little more hospitable – especially if you can avoid the winds of March.  This week we have been seeing courses in the area begin their spring aeration programs.  Patrons are sometimes disappointed when they realize their course has been recently aerated.  Members may take a break for a week or two and occasionally daily fee players will cancel their tee time.

An attitude adjustment is all that is necessary.  Let me give you a personal example.  This past week, I was playing at a local course that was aerating the greens.  The back nine was closed so that the grounds crew could get the work done effectively and efficiently without being encumbered by players moving through.  I didn’t realize this until I arrived at the course.  Ordinarily, our little group plays 18 holes.  Since I was preparing for an upcoming tournament, I thought, “Ok, I’ll just focus on my tee to green game and whatever happens on the greens, happens.”  I made an attitude adjustment.

When I finished, I had played a wonderful round on a beautiful spring day.  The greens were actually much better than I had expected as the surfaces were well top-dressed with sand, but the key was that I was much less focused on results in my putting and chipping.  I only wanted to maintain good technique.  The result was my best score ever (by 2 strokes) for 18 holes and only 26 putts.  Now, granted the “round” wasn’t a true round since I played the front nine twice, but still, 18 holes are 18 holes. 

I like to look at this period as the beginning of some of the best putting conditions you will see during the year.  After a few weeks and then for months, the putting greens will be better and often much better than they were before the aeration.  But, aeration isn’t so much about short term gains in turf conditions as it is about long term health of the growing medium.

First let’s get our terminology correct.  Many of us old timers call the aeration process aerification and lots of you youngin’s call it “punching”.  As the name implies, aeration is about getting air into the soil profile, but it’s about much more than that.  Aeration falls under a broader description of turf maintenance called cultivation.  If you’ve had any experience with cultivation you know it’s about making the growing environment hospitable for the plant you’re trying to grow. 

Aeration promotes a healthy plant and a healthy plant reduces the need for the use of pesticides.  Among the more direct benefits of aeration are:

  • Maintaining or improving the rate of air and water movement into soils.
  • Removal of organic matter (or thatch) from the upper part of the soil profile.  This is important because grass is constantly creating organic matter.  If left to build up, its sponge-like quality can rob the plant of essential water in the lower profile causing roots to become shallow and the plant susceptible to heat and drought.  Excessive thatch can also lead to greater mechanical damage such as mower scalping.
  • Historically, compaction reduction has often been identified as an important benefit of aeration.  This is true, but compaction isn’t generally a serious problem on properly constructed modern greens or on older greens that have soil profiles that have been aggressively modified with sand.

Aeration is an important element in the Superintendents’ repertoire of tools.  There are many types of aeration.  Here is just a basic introduction so you as a player/patron can better understand what you are seeing on the course:

  • Core aeration – removes a core of the existing soil profile.  The core can be of a range of diameters and depths.  The core is removed mechanically using many tapered hollow metal cylinders mounted on several reciprocating plates holding the cylinders or tines.  Research has shown that it is important to impact 15 – 20 percent of the surface area with aeration to prevent excessive organic matter.
  • Aggressive, deep verticutting.  Verticutting is done using vertical blades which cut into and pull out thatch in grooves.  To be effective, the blades must be set deep enough to penetrate the entire thatch depth.  This is generally considered a more aggressive de-thatching tool and it also is more disruptive to play.  It is rarely used, but is available for severe thatch problems.  You may see a more shallow, less aggressive form of verticutting used as a grooming practice.
  • Solid tine aeration is sometimes used in place of core aeration and without topdressing as a compromise to less disruption of playing conditions.  However, it is a much less effective cultivation technique than core aeration and I believe it actually provides more disruption to play than core aeration with properly applied topdressing.  Solid tine aeration may also cause greater compaction below and laterally to the aeration hole since the solid tine compresses or displaces soil and does not remove it.  In turn, this can cause a more severe variation in the green surface.

Core aeration and topdressing are necessary to meet your expectations for good playing conditions – especially on greens.  Maintaining a healthy, aggressively growing stand of turf makes your game more enjoyable.  In the long run it is also less expensive and disruptive to your play than periodic renovating and/or replanting portions of your course.  Get out there and enjoy our beautiful spring weather.  If you must, make a little attitude adjustment until the greens are fully healed and you’ll enjoy your game as well.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Amateur Golf in Mexico is Alive and Well

By Mary Armstrong – Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 3/11/2011

While researching my article a couple of weeks ago, I noted that the USGA administers the rules and assists with xhampionships in Mexico.  Allison Jarrett is the Director of Regional Affairs for the South Region of the USGA, which includes Mexico.  I interviewed her this past Monday to find out how extensively the USGA is involved in Mexico. 

First of all, let’s establish the USGA’s place worldwide.  The United States Golf Association (USGA) is the national governing body of golf for the U.S. and Mexico.  The R&A does the same for the rest of the world, including Canada.  The USGA does this by:

● Conducting 13 national championships each year

● Writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf

● Regulating and testing all golf equipment for conformance to the Rules of Golf

● Maintaining the USGA handicap and course rating system

● Providing research-based turf management expertise

● Celebrating the history of the game

In Mexico, the USGA is assisted by and cooperates with two major golf organizations.  La Federación Mexicana de Golf (FMG) and La Asociación Mexicana Femenil de Golf (AMFG) have seven regions similar to the USGA.  Their local organization are similar in operation and scale to our local USGA region – Sun Country Amateur Golf Association (SCAGA) is a region.  According to Ms. Jarrett, the USGA sends representatives to Mexico for three or four events per year.  Recently, the USGA, FMG and AMFG jointly announced that beginning this year the winners of the Mexican men’s and women’s amateur championships will get an automatic exemption for USGA sponsored championships as they may be otherwise eligible, through the local qualifying rounds. 

The two organizations also announced that the Rules of Golf and Decisions on the Rules of Golf are now available in Spanish.  They can be downloaded from the USGA website ( in pdf format by selecting the rules tab and then choosing either document.  As precise as the rules are, you can imagine the difficulty and magnitude of such an undertaking.  The USGA has been very complimentary of the FMG and the President of the FMG in turn very proud of his organizations effort:

“This is wonderful news for us,” said Fernando Ysita, president of the Federación Mexicana de Golf. “I feel very enthusiastic about the work that has been done by our Comité Nacional de Reglas in partnership with the USGA.”

The FMG has implemented the USGA handicapping system for Mexico golfers.  The USGA has licensed the FMG to operate the handicapping system including performing course ratings.  

The USGA also distributes several types of grants for programs and projects that benefit their mission.  The FMG and AMFG have received grants through the USGA’s P.J. Boatwright Internship program. 

Former LPGA star, Mexican Lorena Ochoa became the 57th recipient of the USGA’s coveted Bob Jones award this year.  The award is given in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.  The first award was given to Francis Ouimet in 1955 and the 2010 award to retired LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright. 

From our perspective here in the Southwestern U.S., it’s hard to get past the drug violence in the border towns which now seems to be spreading to Mexico’s interior.  Despite these distractions, when it comes to golf, the FMG and AMFG are helping the USGA to promote the game.

In other USGA news:

  • The “Miracle at Merion” has won the 2010 USGA Herbert Warren Wind Book Award.  The book, by David Barrett, features the inspiring story of Ben Hogan’s amazing comeback and victory in the 1950 U.S. Open. 
  • Mike Davis, 46, has been chosen to succeed David B. Fay as Executive Director of the USGA.  Fay retired last year after 32 years with the USGA.  Davis, from Clinton, N.J., has been doing course setup (among other duties) for the USGA major championships since taking over for Tom Meeks in 2006.  He will continue doing course setup for the U.S. Open, but delegate the remaining tournaments.  Davis was born and raised in Pennsylvania and played college golf at Georgia Southern.

At NMSU Golf Course:

Karl Olson, Certified Golf Course Superintendent (CGCS), was recently hired to fill the post of retired long-time NMSU super Bruce Erhard, CGCS.  Olson has a stellar resume’, having served as superintendent at the National Golf Links of America on Long Island, Tucson Country Club, and most recently at Desert Forest Golf Club in Carefree, AZ.  He is a graduate of NMSU’s Department of Agriculture and he played on the NMSU Golf Team during his education.  Karl is originally from Roswell.  I want to take this opportunity to wish Karl favorable weather and an ample budget!


I erroneously reported Erica Blasberg’s death as being on Saturday May 9th, 2009.  The correct day and date was Sunday, May 9th, 2010. 

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Guest commentary: It’s only golf: The tragic story of Erica Blasberg

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 03/03/2011 09:32:21 PM MST


On Sunday, May 9th, 2010, 25-year-old LPGA star Erica Blasberg was supposed to be in Alabama for a golf tournament, but she never left her home in Henderson, Nevada.If you recall this horrible event as I do, the discovery of her body by a so-called friend, Dr. Hess, seemed terribly suspicious and confusing. Hess had spent time with Erica only two days before at the “M” Casino in Las Vegas. After a four month investigation, Erica’s death was ruled a suicide and Hess was charged with tampering with evidence. He was convicted and sentenced to 24 hours of public service and one year of probation.

But, if you were like me, you knew that wasn’t the whole story.

This past Sunday, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” (OTL) program aired the most complete explanation of what transpired that day and in the months and years leading up to Erica’s death. OTL reporter Colleen Dominguez used an in-depth interview with Erica’s father, Mel Blasberg, to frame Erica’s story. Her rise to golf, celebrity and commercial success was meteoric yet fleeting, and while she remained an outgoing and photogenic asset to the LPGA, her game left her after early successes. Dominguez’ story reveals a deeply troubled young woman whose relationship with her father played a significant role in her death.

But her father’s controlling personality wasn’t the only factor. There was a failed relationship with a man twice her age – and married at that. It seemed on the surface that the break-up with John Broders triggered the suicide, but there was much more than that “eating Gilbert Grape.”

LPGA player Irene Cho had stayed with Erica a few months before her death and found a previous suicide note. She didn’t confront Erica or tell anyone about it because she was afraid she would violate Erica’s trust. Not long after, John Broders called Cho to ask that she go to Erica’s house because he said that Erica had texted him indicating she was popping pills like “skittles.” In a police interview, Cho said that at that point she decided she had had enough, saying “you know what, I don’t even want to deal with this anymore.” Predictably, Cho refused to be interviewed by Dominguez.

Rarely have I seen an interview that so-thoroughly implicated the interviewee. And yet earlier in the interview when speaking about Erica’s threat to kill herself in 2007 Mel Blasberg says that he realized then she was telling him she couldn’t take this life anymore. At another point in the interview, Mr. Blasberg says, “Did Erica want to continue what was going in her golf career? No. She had enough of that.” After that Erica received some psycho-therapy, but her tour and appearance schedule made her appointments spotty, leading to the eventual cancelation of treatment.

But, in my opinion, the most telling exchange between Mr. Blasberg and Dominguez was when he remarked that “Erica was force fed my personality.” To which Dominguez remarked, “Some people would say that not only was she force fed your personality, she was force fed golf.” Mr. Blasberg answered, “And I don’t regret that, I think golf was the best place for her.”

A controlling father in denial; friends that gave up; and a lifestyle that couldn’t accommodate necessary care. This is a sad story of a young woman that cried out for help. Sad because it reveals what some people will put ahead of another person’s happiness and in the end – a life.

The LPGA soap opera continues

A couple of years ago when the LPGA contracted with The Golf Channel to televise all their events I thought this was a breakthrough. Turns out to be much less. The inaugural LPGA event this year was being played in Thailand. Because of the tournament’s location a live telecast wasn’t advisable. Instead the LPGA tournament was aired in a delay broadcast opposite CBS’ live telecast of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only time such a thing has happened. If you follow the LPGA on TV at all you know that the vast majority of LPGA events are tape-delayed telecasts. Instead of televising live LPGA events, The Golf Channel has forged new contracts with CBS and NBC to cover nearly every hole on the PGA tour.

Now it has been reported that State Farm Insurance will no longer be an LPGA event sponsor after completing this year’s event in June. At $1.7 million, The State Farm Insurance Classic has the fourth-best purse of the U.S. events and is certainly in the top 10 overall. The news release indicated that Tournament Executive Director Kate Peters was immediately starting to look for a new sponsor. There was no mention of the LPGA’s role in that process. To date, five days after the report, I have yet to see an LPGA news release or posting of any information about it on their website.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: