This past February at the Golf Industry Show in San Diego I attended a seminar talking about winter maintenance practices on ultradwarf bermudagrass greens. Along with the normal information about fungicides and fertility and protective covers, the instructors introduced us to a program used at Pinehurst in which they placed several hole locations in the green at the beginning of the winter season and simply moved the flag from cup to cup as play indicated. The remaining "not in use" hole locations were plugged with a recycled rubber plug which would not hamper ball roll or maintenance practices. I thought this was a great idea and if it was good enough for Pinehurst then it would be good enough for us to try. So today we installed three hole locations in each of our greens, one hole location received the flag and the other two received plugs.
The USGA has produced a great video about the process and the thought behind the program which you can watch here
Hole locations will be moved periodically depending on the amount of play we receive and any damaged hole will be relocated. The cups in the putting green have also been removed and replaced with cupless flagsticks which will reduce the wear on the green and improve the appearance of the putting green in the spring.
For those worried about a violation of the Rules of Golf here is an explanation to ease your minds.
For those wondering about what happens should your ball be on the putting green and the rubber plug is on the line of your putt, the Rules of Golf cover this situation. Since this a hole made by a greenkeeper, it meets the Definition of Ground Under Repair. You could choose to play your ball as it lies, but you also have the option to take relief. Rule 25-1b(iii) provides guidance on how to take relief if desired.
25-1b (iii) On the Putting Green: If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it, without penalty, at the nearest point of relief that is not in a hazard or, if complete relief is impossible, at the nearest position to where it lay that affords maximum available relief from the condition, but not nearer the hole and not in a hazard. The nearest point of relief or maximum available relief may be off the putting green.
As with many things at The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay we are willing to try many things but I feel strongly that this new technique will not only save us time and manpower but will also protect the greens during the winter months so they will be better prepared to come out of dormancy in the spring healthy and ready for another great season. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about this new policy please let me know.