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Requirements Of Putting Greens

( Originally Published 1906 )

Why a poor soil is preferred—Special grasses—Worms and their "casts"—Watering, rolling, feeding and other care.

A PUTTING GREEN differs fundamentally from a lawn; the only association of the two lies in the fact that both consist of grass. The golfer demands a green upon which the ball may be played with the same delicacy and precision of touch as the billiard player seeks in the bed of his table. But there is this difference; while the billiard table must be an absolute level, the putting green must have a rolling or undulating surface.

As to the grass: what is needed is a short, very dense, springy turf on a very firm soil bed. The grass therefore must be of a very fine-leaved kind, which will make a growth so close to the ground as to be almost a part of it. For these reasons it is evident that the Kentucky blue grass (or any other of the poas) is quite unsuitable. On the other As to the soil preparation: here again the requirements are quite distinct from those indicated for an ornamental lawn. To help the fine, short growth, a poor, sandy seed bed and an abundantly drained sub-soil (preferably of gravel) is necessary. For a lawn make the soil rich and deep; for a putting green make it shallow, and dry. If the course lies on a clay or loam, import sand—sea sand if possible. Seeding should be much thicker than for lawns—say twice the quantities recommended earlier.

Mr. Walter J. Travis, the well known world's golf champion, writes thus:

"How many players appreciate how important a part putting plays in the game of golf ? In a general way, every one realises the value of good putting. A good putt covers a multitude of shortcomings through the green.

"Considering, then, how very important a feature in the game putting really is it becomes highly desirable that the greens should be the subject of the most intelligent care and attention. Putting is, practically, the heart and soul—the quintessence of golf.

It calls for judgment, confidence, coolness, and delicacy of touch.

"I have played over a number of greens on `the other side,' and, while I admit that they enjoy greater climatic advantages, which go far toward making their greens naturally better than ours, yet I cannot recall a single course which possesses better putting greens than we have at present at Garden City; and few approach them in excellence, so far as trueness and turf are concerned.

"They are in such excellent shape, principally by reason of the methods adopted in their up-building and maintenance; owing, also, a great deal, to the natural advantages in the way of a coarse sand-and-gravel foundation.

"It is quite within the reach of most courses to closely approximate such greens—even where the soil conditions are vastly different—if proper attention is given the subject, hand in hand with unremitting care. Let me briefly outline the general conditions governing the proper treatment of a green.


"In the early spring, immediately after the frost is out of the ground, a man should go carefully over such parts as are not entirely covered with grass, with a nail tamper—procurable at any of the leading seedsmen's —followed by another man, who carefully scatters grass seed into the holes made. At the same time a thin coating of carefully screened, rich loam should be sprinkled over the surface treated. By indenting the ground with innumerable small holes you are sure of getting the seed to stay just where it is wanted, instead of its being blown away by the wind or washed away by the first rain-fall, especially if it is on a slope.

"Work of this kind can also be done at any time from April until October; but, in the summer months, it must be followed up by continuous watering until the grass is fairly well started. If for any reason the new grass fails to materialise, keep at the work until it does. It is impossible to have too close a carpet of grass on a green. Where nine-tenths of the ground is covered, the balance being made up of bare spots here and there, it is very easy to get the whole covered. These bare spots are usually caused by rolling down worm casts. Before a green is cut or rolled, the green should be brushed. The better, and in the end the most economical plan, is to get rid of the offending worms by applying a mixture of corrosive sublimate.


"Do not put fertilisers of any kind on a green except, perhaps, some bone dust, and then only once every three or four years. If the soil is very poor a thin top dressing of well-screened loam, plentifully mixed with seed, may be applied in the spring. The chief trouble with most greens, however, is that the soil is too rich and the grass is, consequently, coarse.

"Probably, the best seed mixture for greens is the so-called Rhode Island bent and creeping bent in equal proportions. These thrive well in nearly all kinds of soil. A coarse green can be very sensibly improved by seeding with this mixture every season, and also by the use of sand in the late fall and early spring.

"Whenever a weed of any kind shows itself it should at once be cut out and a pinch of seed put in. In the early years of a green, before the grass is well established, weeds will appear, and the only thing to do is to systematically go over the entire green every season and cut them out with a sharp knife as far down at the roots as possible. And the same way with crab or summer grass. This treatment, faithfully pursued for a season or two, followed by careful seeding, will make it almost impossible for weeds to find a lodgment.


"During the hot and dry summer .months the greens should be thoroughly soaked at least twice a week by letting the water run through a revolving sprinkler. If necessary keep the water going all day, moving the sprinklers from time to time. Watering in this way, even under a hot sun, is infinitely better than just wetting the surface in the evening. The latter practice, in point of fact, does more harm than good, as it results in the roots of the grass bunching themselves close to the surface—the only place where the moisture is—instead of boring down, as they should. Therefore don't be afraid to soak a green. No injurious effects will come from the hot sun pouring down its rays if watering is done during the daytime. On the contrary much good is done as the water is usually cold—sometimes very cold—and the sun offsets this, which is not the case when the water is applied at night.


"Cutting a green seems a simple thing, but it is well to remember that no green should be cut twice with the mower running the same way. If it was cut north and south last time, run the mowers east and west next time, and so on, alternately. If cut circularly, reverse in the same way. Not only does this insure a much cleaner, trimmer, cut, but it improves the grass.

"Except in the early spring, just after the frost is out of the ground, a heavy roller should not be used on a green. Even then it is better not to do so unless the ground has been badly worked up by the frost. The use of a heavy roller tends to make the grass root-bound and materially injures any green. All greens should be rolled at least once a week with a comparatively light roller—the ordinary garden roller. Those with three sections are the best. Finally, a roller should be pulled—never pushed. If pushed, and the ground be soft, the footprints of the man are left; and, anyway, a man digs in his toes more when pushing than in pulling.

"Another thing: do not, under any circumstances, keep players off the regular greens at any time. The more they are played on, the better, irrespective of time or weather conditions. Play on them day in and day out, the year around. They will be improved by it, although it is hard to believe this when the frost is coming out of the ground, and deep heel-marks are left by the players. Rolling will correct this.


Worms once in seem to flourish and multi-ply if left to themselves. Thousands were got rid of in one year by sprinkling soap-suds on the infested patches, but great care had to be taken on account of the presence of alkali in the mixture. In 1902 I tried a solution of corrosive sublimate (bichloride of mercury). The formula is 1 to 256—i. e., one part of corrosive sublimate to 256 parts of water. Three to four pints of this solution mixed with a barrelful of water —forty to fifty gallons—answers the purpose admirably and without the slightest fear of injury to the grass. Undiluted it is a very active poison and requires careful handling.

"The most economical way of applying it to the greens is to erect a scaffolding five or six feet high at the highest point alongside the green—or an empty wagon will do—and place thereon a couple of empty kerosene barrels, with a hole bored in the bottom, into which run a piece of three-quarter inch hose, sufficient in length to cover the entire green. Connect the hose with an ordinary sprinkling can and sprinkle freely. That's all. It is better to have a couple of barrels so that one can be filling while the other is in use. When filled pour in the mixture and stir. The barrel being elevated the water will flow by gravitation with sufficient force to keep the sprinkler going until the contents of the barrel are exhausted. There is just enough poison in the mixture to put an absolute quietus on every worm that's touched. After they come to the surface they never go back again, and can easily be brushed up at the end of the operation. The grass is not injuriously effected in the slightest degree, nor are cattle or sheep that may be allowed to graze on it.

"The best times to treat greens are early in spring or in the fall, when the ground is soft and the worms are `working.' They are then nearer the surface and `rise' much more readily than when the ground is harder, when more of the mixture is required.

"If a green is treated in the spring comparatively few worms will be in evidence in the fall. But if any are left it is better economy to get rid of them. Unless their `casts' are removed before the green is cut or rolled it means the final ruination of the green. The labour and consequent expense involved in first brushing off the `casts' represents a big item, and it is better economy to get rid of the pest at the outset."

It may be added that since Mr. Travis wrote the above, trials of other grasses have been made, with the result that the fine-leaved fescue is being used now in con-junction with the bents. The crested dogs-tail, which makes a very low turf, with very firm leaves, and stands hard usage, will often be found a good grass for a putting -green.

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