News & Opinion

It’s time to erase marks of course clods

FRANKLIN, Ind. – Basic golfer responsibilities, such as repairing ball marks, raking bunkers, replacing divots and following cart-directional signs, are being neglected like never before.

A playing partner of mine summed it up best. “You may not know all of the Rules of Golf, but even the most casual golfer knows that when you are in a sand trap, it is supposed to be raked before you leave.” It sounds simple, but unfortunately it doesn’t always happen, and it’s probably a bigger problem on public golf courses than it is at private clubs.

As the owner-operator of The Legends Golf Club in suburban Indianapolis, I find that there are two stakeholders in this discussion. The golf course has an inherent responsibility to prepare the course for daily play. That includes the obvious: mowing greens, tees, fairways and roughs; raking and smoothing bunkers; keeping hazards marked; and moving tee markers. These are the basics, and depending upon budgets and levels of service, the list certainly can be expanded.

An inconsiderate golfer leaves his mark on a course, compounding the hazard for players to follow.

Golfers have a responsibility to all of the players behind them to leave the course in the same or better condition than they find it. This means fixing your ball marks and any others that you see on the greens. Raking your bunker shots carefully, smoothing out footprints and shot marks. Don’t rake in a hurry and leave ridges in the sand. Replace or fill your divots and any others that you might see. And those cart-directional signs? They are there to help spread wear from golf cars and keep turf from thinning.

Golfers can be like sheep and just keep following one another on the same bumpy, bare path.

Many of these things can be done while playing partners are hitting their shots and putts.

I know it might seem obvious to many Morning Read subscribers, who are among the game’s most passionate and regular participants. You know there is a major problem out there because you have fixed countless ball marks, had bunker shots come to rest in a footprint and played perfect drives from fairway divots. So how does the problem get solved?

Player expectations, such as these listed at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., set the decorum for golfers. The key is in making sure that the standards are followed.

It starts with the course owners and operators. We need to do a better job of setting player expectations and then communicating them. There should be visible signage all over the clubhouse, at check-in and snack counters, on the golf carts, on social-media outlets and at many of the tee boxes.

However, many golfers don’t follow the written advice. Oral communication from the golf staff – particularly the starters and rangers – is critical.

Finally, there needs to be accountability. What should a course do to players who ignore their responsibilities? This is where it gets sticky. Courses need the revenue from rounds of golf and related purchases, and no operator wants to drive his or her customers away, so many just suck it up and let the player responsibilities slide. But, that attitude is a disservice to the golfers who do care.

I spend a lot of time in course maintenance at my facility. (My college degree from Purdue is in agronomy and turf management.) All season long, I watch players ignore many of their responsibilities. Knowing the effort my crew makes in keeping the course in good shape, it upsets me to see lazy, inconsiderate golfers leave a path of destruction for the players behind them.

Here is what I see from my daily perch on the golf course: Many times, the violators are senior men. It seems to be a sense of entitlement or just plain laziness. They walk over or past bunker rakes. They won’t bend over to repair ball marks or fairway divots. They scuff their feet when walking on the greens. They drive the golf cart on the shortest path, to avoid walking a few feet – screw the directional signs! Don’t get me started on the growing number of requests for handicapped flags, which have become a license to drive the golf cart on the edge of the green.

Point of clarification: The vast majority of senior men do follow the rules, but it takes only a few to wreak havoc with the course, especially bunkers. There are golfers who legitimately need handicap flags, but destruction of greenside turf might mean that it’s time to look for another pastime. As many public-course operators would attest, many requests for handicap flags come from golfers with no disability.

In 2019, my course will handle player-responsibility violations in the following manner:

The first warning will be a polite oral notification from a staff member. The player will be given a written warning ticket, and that information will be logged into our database.

The second violation will result in a 30-day suspension of playing privileges.

The third violation will mean permanent suspension from our course.

We have a responsibility to protect those golfers who do uphold their player responsibilities. We view this as good customer service.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email:; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga