Molly McMulligan’s Fab 5

What the grounds crew would like golfers to know

You’re 120 yards out and two workers are digging away just next to the green. They’re not wearing helmets. Do you:

  1. Wait for them to finish, hands on your hips?
  2. Yell “Fore” to get them to move out of the way?
  3. Wait for them to acknowledge you and let you know how to proceed?
  4. Fire away?

With golf courses as crowded as ever, it’s not easy being Carl the groundskeeper. And for many newcomers to the game, it’s not easy either to be the one holding the potentially lethal club.

Says Denver Golf Director of Agronomy Pam Smith, “I wish there were more of a synergistic relationship between golfers and maintenance workers. I think new golfers don’t understand that, hey, this guy doesn’t want to be here when I’m golfing. I think they just think we could disappear somewhere, and we really don’t have that option.”

We all aspire to the same goal: a vibrant, healthy, beautiful golf course in superb condition. To that end, here are five things the maintenance crews would like us to know:

1. They’re not trying to get in our way. “We’re not out there trying to be a distraction or trying to be in anybody’s way,” says Mitch Savage, director of agronomy at the CGA’s CommonGround Golf Course. “Quite frankly, we’re almost trying to be like Navy Seals out there. We’re trying to get in and get our job done and get out without being seen. … But inevitably, if you’re out there trying to get something done, you’re gonna cross paths.”

2. They take great pride in cutting the perfect hole for you. Savage says that was always his favorite task, because, he says, “That’s the one spot on every hole on the golf course that every golfer is going to see. So I always loved cutting the perfect cup and trying to make the flagstick as straight up and down as I could. It’s a pride thing.” But since the pandemic, Colorado superintendents have noticed more damage around that hole. Says Smith, “Leaving the pin in results in more wear and tear of the cup edge, due to hands and putters catching the lip.” No one suggests removing the flag for every putt – just a little extra care, especially for those who like to dig the ball out of the hole with their putter head or one of those back-saving retrievers. And no tantrums, please: slamming a putter into a green is always a no-no.

3. Yes, it is possible to play too fast. You’re first in line at the course at dawn and cannot understand why the starter won’t send you out before that foursome. It might be to keep the maintenance crew at a safe distance from the players. “That’s a significant challenge,” says Smith. “Especially when we’re having golfers go off both nines. Some golf courses hold them up. There used to be kind of an etiquette on the back nine, where golfers would give maintenance workers the right of way. They yielded, we got our job done and then got out ahead of them on the back nine. Golfers now don’t generally have that same course etiquette. They just don’t know.” Says Savage, “My goal is always to be at least a few holes out ahead of that first group. And then if, if everything goes well, you can usually stay out far enough ahead of those people where they’d never see you. And then if we do have to go back out and do some work when there are golfers out on the course, we work backwards from 18, so that if we have to cross paths with a golfer or a group of golfers, we only see them once.”

4. Good greens aren’t necessarily fast greens. “Some golfers want fast and firm greens every time they play, and some people don’t need that,” says Savage. “Some people are just happy to be out hitting golf ball around. So, we always have a lot of people’s desires and wishes to try to keep in mind. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to provide a healthy, thriving, living golf course while at the same time trying to provide a fun golfing experience.” Greens that are too fast may make the game too hard for many players; they certainly slow the game down for most. “For certain tournaments and events, we’ll speed up the greens,” Savage says. “But we can’t every single day push our greens to an extreme that’s going to potentially harm them.”

5. If you can spare a moment to let the crew finish what it’s doing, give some kind of sign. The best answer above is 3, ideally with a friendly wave that lets the workers know you’ll wait for them to finish. 1 might be OK, but without the hands on the hips, 2 seems rude and 4 would generally be dangerous. “There’s an expectation that our mowers get out of the way of play, period,” says Smith. “Now, are there instances where it makes more sense for a mower to finish a stripe and then get out of the way? Yeah. If you would give us that 30 to 60 seconds to finish our stripe, we’d gladly get out of your way. We’ll look at the golfer. If you give me two minutes, I’ll mow the green and you’ll never see me again. Sometimes all it takes is just that eye contact and a friendly wave.”


Veteran journalist Susan Fornoff has written about golf for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, ColoradoBiz magazine and her own She became a CGA member when she moved from Oakland, CA, to Littleton in 2016, and ghost-writes as “Molly McMulligan,” the CGA’s on-course consultant on golf for fun. Email her at


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