Turf & Rec

Features Profiles
Editorial: Understanding divot repair

The science behind golf divot repairs


May 8, 2018
By Mike Jiggens


Topics

The image gracing the cover of this issue of Turf & Rec is rather dramatic. It captures a golfer making a good-sized divot after (presumably) hitting a properly struck approach shot into a green.

The photographer captured the precise moment the divot was made after the ball had already left the frame. To the uninitiated, it might appear the golfer has done a tremendous injustice to the playing surface with such violent contact with the ground that he’s recklessly vandalized the golf course.

That’s nonsense, of course, as anyone who knows anything about the game of golf will understand that making a divot with an iron in hand is a normal part of the game. It means he’s correctly pinched the ball on his downswing in such a manner as to take a piece of turf along for the ride during his routine follow-through.

We’re not here to explain how the game should be played. If so, I’d yield to a much lower handicapper than myself. Rather, the image ties in with an agronomic look at golf divots – how they should be repaired and what materials should be used to fill in the cavities.

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This is a previously unexplored topic in the pages of our publication. Dr. Aaron Patton of Purdue University took an agronomic look at this aspect of the game during February’s Canadian Golf Course Management Conference in Quebec City. Divot repair is one of the few facets of turfgrass maintenance that is largely left in the hands of the golfer as opposed to the grounds crew.

If the golfer is diligent and takes pride in the course he is playing, he will do his part to fix his own damage and not further burden the grounds staff beyond the more pressing matters they’re to tackle that day. Fixing ball marks on greens is the other bit of maintenance normally reserved for the golfer.

Sometimes (sadly, many times) ball marks and divots are completely ignored by the golfer. A conscientious golfer from a group or two behind will often tend to these matters that the offending golfer chose to disregard.

Still, there is a right way and a wrong way to make these simple repairs. When they’re done correctly, the golf superintendent appreciates those few seconds the golfer took to lend a hand toward the betterment of the golf course. Frequently, however, these repairs are not performed properly, and this is where stepped up communications must take place between the superintendent and golfers.

Patton presented scientific data based on research that looked into pouring divot mix into a cavity versus replacing the displaced patch of turf.

He also looked at what worked best as a divot mix.

Much of what Patton had to say offered food for thought, especially when comparing the healing power of divot mix versus the replacement of the unearthed piece of turf. I won’t spoil the results of the study, but start reading on page 8.

Admittedly, there was a time during the early stages of my golf life when I believed making a divot was a golfer’s mistake. During my early years as a beginner at the game, I’d watch someone else strike his ball and be appalled that a huge beaver tail of a turf patch would go flying along with the ball. “Gee, I hope no one working here saw that or else he’s going to be in big trouble,” I thought to myself, rather naively. I figured it was the opposite of a topped ball, with the club digging too deeply into the ground and not making flush contact with the ball.

Of course the perpetrator of the divot would nicely land his ball on the green. Meanwhile I concentrated on sweeping the ball from the turf, upsetting the grass blades as little as possible, but watched as I sprayed it every which way. I eventually clued into the fact that making a divot was part of the game and was actually the proper way to hit a shot, as long as the divot occurred after the ball was struck.

Golf courses in the habit of frequently moving their tee markers around are doing themselves a huge favour.