Can you imagine watching a professional sporting event that’s played on grass and not seeing some type of mowing pattern visible? It wouldn’t be the same, would it? Picture a familiar baseball diamond, maybe somewhere like Camden Yards or Fenway Park, or the glorious pitch at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England. Or how about your favorite football team’s grass field on Sunday afternoon (assuming they have actual real grass on the field)?
Without some type of artistic mowing design, something would be missing. The mowing patterns are almost part of the allure.
But, in the same respect, mowing patterns could be considered all fluff, like decorative icing on a cake. They’re eye candy, a visual treat.
Or, is there more to mowing patterns than meets the eye? Do they actually serve a cultural maintenance purpose?
We’ll answer that question in a bit. But for now, let’s consider mowing patterns on golf courses.
Golf course mowing patterns are a bit of a different animal than most other sports. First off, there are so many various heights of cut on golf courses that can be shown off and, thus, be mowed differently. Greens, tees, fairways, approaches, collars, surrounds and even all the various cuts of rough make up most golf courses. Obviously, because the layers of height change from area to area, a golf course offers many more chances to show off artistic mowing patterns than almost any other maintained grass.
On a grass tennis court, for example, you basically are limited to one pattern. On a baseball field you can certainly separate the infield and the outfield patterns, although not much else. A football field is limited to creativity because of the yard lines. But a golf course, well, that is a blank palette just waiting for an artist to create a masterpiece!
But this is where sensory overload might come into play. How much is too much? If you striped and checker-boarded every different height of cut on any one golf course (which I have seen done), it’s almost too much for the eye.
This is also where the old phrase “A little goes a long way” comes in. There is a definite beauty in restraint. In the “simpleness” of simple simplicity (I just came up with that gem).
I often get asked by new workers (the older ones know not to ask me anymore) if they should stripe out the surrounds when mowing around greens and tees. My answer is always a very definitive “No.”
Why? Well, one reason is because of sensory overload. I don’t really want the surrounds of the green striped when we’ve already striped the green itself, the approach in front of that green and the fairway leading up to that approach.
It’s just too much. I don’t like any rough or surrounds striping on a golf course at all. If we have to stripe, let’s leave it for the short stuff. Striping surrounds also tends to lend itself to mowing the grass in the same direction over and over. This is where I find the intentional removal of a mowing pattern can actually aid the health of the turf.
Which gets us back to that question we asked earlier: “Do mowing patterns actually serve a cultural maintenance purpose?” In a nutshell, does striping turf actually benefit said turf in any way?
Well, sort of.
Let’s look at the greens on a golf course for an example. If not all golf courses on our little blue planet, a very high percentage of them rotate the daily mowing direction on their greens. Most use the standard four directions of a clock to change the daily direction. Monday the greens would be cut 10 to 4, Tuesday 8 to 2, Wednesday 12 to 6, Thursday 9 to 3, and then Friday back to 10 to 4 and start the rotation all over again.
We’re all familiar with this practice. But why do we do it? Do we do it to create a checkerboard effect on the greens? Are we in love with those straight, perfect lines?
My guess is no, not really. That’s just an added result. The main reason we change mowing direction is to constantly change up the direction in which the grass blades on the green are being cut. Giving your workers a new daily direction guarantees the direction will be different from the previous day, as well as the two days previous to that.
I know a lot of courses like to burn these four directions in. Meaning their 8 to 2 directional cut, for example, is always over the same 8 to 2 lines. Every time. They can do this because the lines are usually still visible even four days later. But aren’t they kind of defeating the purpose of why they are changing up the direction that the grass is being cut in the first place?
Personally, I don’t really like to burn these lines in. I actually instruct my guys to change up an 8 to 2 direction from the last 8 to 2. Meaning, I ask them to not go over the exact same lines as the last time we did that direction. My thinking here is even with four directions constantly changing, you still might see some lying down of the blades if you don’t mix up these four directions slightly. I am less concerned with the beauty of burned-in mow lines on a green as I am with finding the most effective way to cut the grass.
This holds true not only on greens, but fairways, approaches and tees as well. Heck, anything where you change up directional mow is fair game here.
I do understand that mowing patterns and crisp, dark lines and shapes do hold a certain fascination for some, but don’t let these visual treats deter you from providing the best playability conditions you possibly can.
Don’t be lured by the fancy frill of the visual eye candy that fancy mowing patterns can be. Or, at least, limit it a bit.