Can You Squeeze Out A Few More Metres Driving It Down the Shiny Side?

FIFTY years ago, when golf-course mowers had the wingspan of an A380, fairways were quickly cut down one side and up the other. The half that was mowed towards the green looked shiny, and the other half was darker. In the 1970s, smaller, lightweight mowers were used for tighter cuts. Superintendents suddenly became artists, mowing stripes and even checkerboard patterns on their holes. But in recent years, some have reverted to the ‘half-and-half’ method, saying diagonal stripes require constant turns in rough, damaging it. Others say the older method concentrates wear and tear in front of greens. So we asked a host of greenskeepers, from The Australian Golf Club to US Open and PGA Championship venues: Is half-and-half mowing or striping patterns better? And can we get more roll if we drive it down the shiny side?

  1. Phil Beale, The Australian Golf Club, NSW
    “The lighter half of the grass is lying towards the green, and I’m sure it would roll further than when it’s facing the opposite direction back towards the tee. If grass is lying towards the green it creates a grain, so the ball rolls easier because the blades are lying down. In addition to that, at impact the club will glide through the grass smoother than when the grass is facing the tee, so the turf interaction is a little different. We don’t generally stripe the fairways but we did for the Australian Open last year. It’s a normal operation but it was for aesthetic reasons, not strategic in terms of attempting to dictate where the ball rolled on a particular hole. Ideally, superintendents would like to cut fairways in one direction for consistency of the grain, but it’s almost impossible to do as it takes too much time.”
  2. Curtis Tyrrell, Medinah Country Club, Illinois
    “I have never seen a study that says a ball rolls farther on the shiny side. When it comes to championship conditions, the mowing heights today are so low, if there were any extra roll with the grain, it would be minimal, not measurable or consistent.”
  3. Matt Shaffer, Merion Golf Club, Pennsylvania
    “We mow half and half. Turning mowers is very abrasive on rough grass. Take a little sand and rub it on your cheek eight to 10 times and see how that feels. That’s what the grass experiences every time a mower turns.  When I was working at Augusta National in the 1980s, Jack Nicklaus observed that his ball rolled farther on the light versus the dark side. I thought, really? But sure enough, when we Stimped the fairways, we found he was right. So we now mow clockwise one day and anti-clockwise the next to avoid that situation. “
  4. John Zimmers, Oakmont Country Club, Pennsylvania
    “One will experience issues of wear no matter how the fairways are mowed. I’d rather manage mower turns in the rough as opposed to in front of the green, where players often try to land and release balls onto the putting surface. We stripe our fairways and vary the patterns daily to encourage upright growth.”