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Courses will give lessons on manners

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


Course operators see dollar signs with the influx of players taking up the game.

But they also must pay for golf's popularity.

Though more newcomers is good for the bottom line, not all of those players are schooled in some of the basics expected of golfers.

Hence, Saturday's "Etiquette Day" at area courses.

"It's something we want to be a part of because we think it's important," said Jeff Hollis, director of golf at St. Petersburg's Mangrove Bay. "New golfers are wonderful for the business, but they don't have the appreciation for the history of the game. It's important for us in the business to do things like this etiquette day to try and help."

Conceived by PGA pro Johnnie Jones, the idea was put in motion by the West Central Chapter of the North Florida Section of the PGA of America. The chapter comprises some 225 clubs, many of which will make a point Saturday to instruct their customers in basic course etiquette.

"It's all come together kind of quickly," said Clay Thomas, director of golf at Westchase Golf Club in Tampa and president of the West Central Chapter. "It's a real simple idea. We'll probably end up with about 70 courses doing it. My goal next year is to have it on our section calendar.

"Right now we're promoting it on the chapter level, and I think we'll have good participation. It's a great idea, just a no-brainer."

The courses taking part in Etiquette Day will offer instruction in four areas: ball-mark repair, raking bunkers, replacing divots and speeding up play. The instruction will be offered at various holes on each course.

To most golfers, such instruction might seem a waste of time. Fixing a ball mark or putting sand in a divot is second nature. Trying to play at a reasonable pace is understood.

But evidence suggests too many players are unfamiliar with such basic concepts. The most abused? Fixing ball marks.

"People usually rake bunkers, but they don't fix ball marks," said Tim Greco, head pro at Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor. "Most regular golfers hit a hard golf ball and it ends up 15 to 40 feet from where it landed. They never go to the front of the green and fix their ball mark. If you don't fix a ball mark, it can take two weeks to a month for that to heal. A simple thing of bending over helps keep that green in shape. If you have 200 players and half don't fix their ball marks, you've got a battlefield out there."

"We're playing 85,000-plus rounds a year," Mangrove's Hollis said. "That's a lot of ball marks, especially in the winter months when recovery is even slower. We've asked our rangers to go out there to repair ball marks on some of the greens. On par 3s or a short par 4, it sort of looks like the face of the moon. From an etiquette standpoint, that's what is missing more than anything."

Another common misconception is about replacing divots. In Florida, most courses have Bermuda grass. Replacing a divot does no good. It needs to be filled with sand -- which many courses provide on the cart.

"That's the next biggest problem," Westchase's Thomas said. "A lot of people just don't fill their divots. And a lot of people who move down here from the North put divots back in the hole. But with Bermuda grass, that doesn't work. That piece of grass will die in there and will inhibit the growth of the good Bermuda."

The golf professionals know they won't reach everyone Saturday. "Some of the biggest abusers are the ones who don't spend five seconds listening to you," Lansbrook's Greco said. "We put notes on the carts, in the pro shop ... but some people don't care about the next golfer. That's why I think you should be given a test before you go on the golf course."

Without that, Etiquette Day is the next best thing, they say.

"I think this should be done more than once a year," Greco said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't be done once a month. Doing this is better than not doing it. Doing it more often is better than doing it once. Awareness is everything. You just keep pounding them with information and letting them know we want to give them a good product and we want to help them do that."

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