Green Committee Primer


Joe Sponcia

January, 2016

Green committees have been a part of the club landscape since the time of Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie. Outside of building campaigns and club house renovations that have bankrupted otherwise successful clubs, nothing has proven more detrimental to the long-term success and enjoyment of a club’s most valuable asset – its golf course – than well-meaning, yet woefully uneducated Green Committees. History is littered with examples of armchair architects that have taken their power and influence too far, however in recent years, the golf industry has seen clubs return to their roots, which ironically, is usually championed by one or two daring individuals on the Green Committee.

If you have been a member of your club for a short time or a very long one, the very thought of having an impact on the playing field can be enticing. This is why the selection, make-up, and basic outline of this important club committee is critical.

What purpose and responsibilities should the Green Committee serve?

• To convey pertinent information about the golf course and it’s operations to the membership.
• To be a sounding board for individual members or groups.
• To assist in budgeting and oversight as it relates to the golf course.
• To educate themselves on issues that affect agronomy (sunlight, water, trees, and weather) and to understand basic course construction as it relates to overall design and playability for all members.
• To understand and articulate the club’s Course Master Plan as it relates to future changes.
• To address historical issues that over time have proven detrimental to the membership, i.e tree plantings, bunker additions/fills, fairway widths, etc.

Common pitfalls to avoid

1 Few clubs discuss and agree to the purpose above (or something similar) aloud. Fewer have taken the time to write out a mission statement. If your Committee doesn’t have a written, stated purpose, create one. This will govern what individuals can and can’t do as it relates to their duties on the Committee. Like the pledge allegiance, this statement should be read before each meeting to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. The best ones are short, concise, and don’t mince words.

Scott Anderson, Course Superintendent at Huntingdon Valley Country Club, in Huntingdon Valley, Pa has done a wonderful job outlining the way such a document should read here:

2 Many don’t have a Course Master Plan. A Course Master Plan is the “Constitution” of the golf course. Without one, courses are left defenseless and are subject to trends, whims, and ad hoc changes; they also serve to stifle democracies. Democracies mean mob rules, which in the case of a classic golf course or even a modern one, who do you think is a better judge of where a bunker should be placed or the role of trees as a defense of par? Alister MacKenzie or the President of your local bank and two of his playing partners who have served on the Green Committee for three years? If your club doesn’t have a Master Plan, hire a professional course architect to create one. The plan should include a hole by hole dissertation of how the course should play, be maintained, and the general strategy and mission of the course.

3 Members micro-manage the Course Superintendent. Can you imagine working as an intern or laborer while simultaneously working on your four-year degree, then working as an assistant for 8-10 years, and at the ripe age of thirty-five landing your first job as a Course Superintendent…only to find you have 7-11 new, uninformed bosses every 1-3 years? This is the life of many Course Superintendents. It shouldn’t be. Superintendents spend 5-6 days per week directly working on the golf course, and with that said, are probably aware of every issue on the course before the Committee opines for sixty minutes, once per month. If the expectation of the clubs conditioning isn’t matched by the budget and/or man-power, there is little a Superintendent can do. Simply put, many clubs are 25% low on their maintenance budget and several people short of what they can realistically expect.

4 Short tenures usually mean haphazard results. Face it, many who join Committees or run for Board of Director positions do so for two reasons: They have an axe to grind or want control. That isn’t to say that some don’t have a servants heart, but many simply don’t put the study time in (especially on the Green Committee), beyond the 1-2 hours per month the meetings require. The results of this are often emotion-filled opinions vs. fact-based principle based on careful research. The mere mention of trees, for instance, has proven this out for over 100 years.

5 Too many members on the Committee itself. If 11 members are good, 9 is better, 7 is ideal, and 5 is sublime. Odd numbers are an absolute. Smaller groups get more accomplished than do larger ones.

“The average green committee changes from year to year and usually has far more enthusiasm than knowledge. Wherever any work is attempted, outside of ordinary maintenance, the experience of most clubs has been that a great amount of money has been squandered.” – Stanley Thompson

“The history of most golf clubs is that a Committee is appointed, they make mistakes, and just as they are beginning to learn from their mistakes, they resign office and are replaced by others who make still greater mistakes, and so it goes on. A Committee of three or five is quite large enough. A greater number is likely to prove unwieldy and generally includes considerable dead wood.” – Alister MacKenzie

The Ideal Committee Chairman

Of all of the Chair positions on the Board of Directors, the Green Chair undoubtedly has the steepest learning curve and thus, should bring the most experience and knowledge before assuming the role.

Would it seem sensible to have a man with no food and beverage experience lead the House Committee? Or have another who only plays first Saturday and Sunday mornings, but never attends a single function at the club lead the Social Committee? The risk quadruples when the wrong Green Chair takes the helm. Ever heard of a Beautification Committee that didn’t disfigure a golf course? This is where they get legs.

“In many clubs the selection of a Green Committee is accomplished with little more concern than would attend the purchase of a household doormat; something necessary and fairly durable and which, when worn out, may be tossed aside for a new one. The chief should be a dictator, for the Green Committee is a one-man show if there ever was one. The Chairman should be a man of considerable knowledge of turf conditions and the requirements of the game itself. It is to be assumed that these qualifications have caused his selection.” – A.W. Tillinghast

The ideal Committee Chairman should possess the following attributes:

Principled – When asked, he should be able to recite the playing characteristics, strategy, and agronomic characteristics of the course as it is described in the Master Plan. If no plan exists, he should be able to reference commonly known principles in the industry and any known characteristics that represent the vision of his original Architect based on his other designs, early photos, or the writings of previous Green Committees.

Freely Invests Time – He should be a frequent player and keen observer of his surroundings. He should be just as enthused to walk the course without a club in hand, as he is to play it with one.

Understands the Plight of every Member – Whether he be scratch or a higher handicap, he should be able to easily discern the challenge and common issues all members face, regardless of ability. Making a course play hard is an easy task, but is rarely in the club’s best interest. Making it fair and fun for everyone while still providing challenge is ideal.

Studious – He should be a student of architecture and agronomy. The ideal man can recite the principles championed by MacKenzie and Macdonald as easily as he can talk about the latest GCSAA periodicals.

Is Plainly Spoken – You know where you stand with this individual. He is pleasant, but doesn’t mince words. If he doesn’t know the answer, he finds it quickly. If he knows the answer, he isn’t afraid of who is offended by it.

Understands the Big Picture – Without an unlimited budget and unlimited labor, not every project or issue can be tackled at once. When the club loses members, mother nature wreaks havoc, or maintenance staff leaves, the Chair should be open to deviation and changes that reflect the current climate.

Committee Make-up

This is a point of contention for many clubs: “Should we include the most popular people, the most educated, and/or the most diverse group”? If your club has a Course Master Plan already in place, popular and diverse are fine, but in the absence of one, they generally do the most damage. It is always a good idea to have enthusiastic and educated Committee Members above all, but that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for someone who seems to know everyone at the club.

Here are two contrasting views:

“We invited a 40 year member who played bridge in the grill everyday and complained about everything. He had a lot of touch points with a lot of members. He said why would you pick me? I am not going to agree with anything you say. I replied, I don’t want you to agree. I want you to understand the process we are using so that when you complain, you will at least know we are doing nothing without the approval of our consulting architect. You are free to agree or disagree as you see fit. He turned out to be an excellent member of the committee. One of my favorites.” – Mike Policano

“The notion that a green committee should represent the diversity in the membership is why so many great and classical courses have been disfigured over the years. It’s probably the worst method for structuring a green committee. A committee should be structured by choosing the most qualified candidates, and not a cross section of the membership for political correctness’s sake. If you have to educate them the day before you appoint them, you’ve made the wrong choice.” – Patrick Mucci

If your club doesn’t have an interview process established for admitting new committee members, create one. This could be done over lunch with a series of simple, yet pertinent questions:

1 Describe how you might be an asset to the Committee? This will let the Chairperson know what substance the candidate could bring to the table and what role they see themselves playing.

2 If you could change or fix three things on the golf course, what would they be? This is where their ‘axe to grind’ lies. Listen carefully here.

3 What are your three favorite books on course design/architecture or agronomy? This question speaks to education and preparation beforehand. Will they be the kind of member who will constantly need to be spoon-fed information or do they already have a base knowledge they can articulate?

4 Can you discuss the various schools of course design, i.e. strategic, penal, heroic? This is a great question to weed out those who seek a one-dimensional golf course that punishes high handicappers and is boring to scratch players. Playability for all handicaps is the ideal answer.

5 Do you frequently play other courses? People that see and play other clubs are more beneficial than are those who only play at home.

6 If so, what do you like and dislike when playing elsewhere? Being able to contrast preferences, even if the Chairperson may hold the opposite opinion makes for a valuable member.

7 Trees are often a hot button for many clubs, can you discuss their role? This is the coup de grace for Committee members. If they can’t articulate the pros and cons of what is a fairly common issue to discuss at Committee meetings without becoming emotional or irrational, better to find out now than later.

Note: Anyone who is offended by these questions is probably going to be the a thorn to the Committee. Proceed with caution.

Beautification Committees

There is nothing at all wrong with improving the beauty of a club through selected plantings of trees, flowers, and plants, but when it comes to the playing field, many times, beautification committees do more harm than good. Inevitably, they will select the wrong tree species to honor fallen members; conifers being the worst (i.e. Christmas trees), plant in the worst places (i.e. corners of doglegs, too close to the fairway, too close to greens) where they will eventually over hang, and roots will protrude into the fairway causing safety issues, and do so simply to fill space.

The best way to memorialize a member is through a scholarship fund, a simple plaque in the clubs hallway, or a bench, but never a tree.

Meeting Structure

The first meeting of the new year should include an orientation session to acclimate new members to the format of the Committee. The orientation should include the high points of the Course Master Plan, a review of the mission statement of the Committee, and a brief history of the course. Members should be encouraged to freely communicate and collaborate on the Committee to make the most effective use of their time. In general, email should only be used for one-way dialogue and announcements, while a bulletin board, private Facebook group (for example), or applications like Clubster, should be used for multiple responses/discussions outside of the monthly meetings. Once the orientation is complete, a review of the last sessions minutes should be discussed before beginning any new business. This should always be done at the first of every meeting.

The second item most clubs tackle is ‘hot button’ issues from the last thirty days. If members communicate freely throughout the month, this shouldn’t take an inordinate of time as many of these items can be aggregated on a discussion board. If your Committee is the kind that plays things close to the vest, the ‘hot button’ time will more likely turn into ‘bitch’ sessions, which can be productive, so long as they are free from emotional tirades. A good Chairperson should be able to moderate the discussion in a way that is respectful to everyone’s time.

The third item to discuss is any planned maintenance (aerification, winterizing, tree trimming/removal, etc.) and tournaments/events that may need special consideration.

The last agenda item should be educational in nature and could take 15-30 minutes each session. Annual topics to discuss should include:

• Bunker maintenance, construction.
• Trees (in general) and tree trimming.
• Aerification.
• Fertilizers.
• Winterizing procedures.
• Sunlight, water, air circulation.
• Green speeds, mowing patterns, fairway corridors/width.
• Maintenance equipment: What, why, and how?
• Diseases

Gary Sherman offers this sage advice: ‘Early this year I was asked to join our green committee after much solicitation on my part. The reason I solicited membership was the changes I saw happening to the course and the rumors of those planned. I went to my first meeting excited to be a part of the committee but went home after the meeting depressed. I learned that there was no long range plan for the course and that “suggestions” for improvements were being solicited on a piece of paper circulating among the committee members. I also determined from the discussion that the committee members had no clue as to the history of the golf course and none had any concept of basic turfgrass management and golf course maintenance practices. During this year, I became a close associate to the greens chairman and took it upon myself to educate the committee on the historical significance of our 75 year old “golden age” designed course and to work with the new superintendent to educate members about basic concepts of turfgrass, tree and course management practices. This has been a lot of hard work and a bit of a political tightrope to manage. From this experience, I would recommend the following “commandments” or responsibilities to anyone who is a current, or desires to be, a green committee member.

1. Educate yourself on the history of your golf course and the original architect. Understand the original architects design philosophy. Develop a scrapbook of old photos, articles and plans of the course. If you have a “golden age” designed course, there are a number of great books to study. Klein’s Rough Meditations, the Ross commentaries, Golf has Never Failed Me, MacKenzie’s Golf Architecture and Shackelford’s The Golden Age of Golf Design. Geoff’s book is great because it has so many pictures and pictures that go a long way in educating people.

2. Educate yourself on what is involved in golf course greenkeeping. There are several very good easy reading books on golf course management. Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management by Nick Christians and Golf Course Tree Management by Sharon Lilly are an easy read. These are enough to establish a working knowledge of greenkeeping. Also subscribe to magazines such as “Links” and “Golf Course Management” issued by the GCSAA.

3. Hire an architect to develop a long-range plan for the course that is sympathetic to the original course design philosophy. The plan should be developed from a high project level and then focus down to individual hole improvements that support the overall plan goals. I wouldn’t do this until you have completed step 1 above. Hiring the wrong person and blindly following his/her plan could be a mistake. The more educated you are on your course the more you will come to know what you want.’


The USGA has put together an excellent outline of topics and articles which will prove helpful to new and current Green Committees. I have added a few pertinent ones, but the credit goes to the them for having the forethought to put this important resource together into one document.


• Deep tine verification in compact soil. E.A. Guertal, Ph.D.; C.L. Derrick; and J.N. Shaw, Ph.D.
• Turfgrass Maintenance Cultivation. Tom Samples, Professor and John Sorochan, Associate Professor Plant Sciences
• Aeration and topdressing for the 21st century. O’Brien, Pat; Hartwiger, Chris. 2003. USGA Green Section Record. March/April. 41(2): p. 1-7. Sometimes More is Less. Oatis, David A. 2002. USGA Green Section Record. May/June. 40(3): p. 10-11.
• Why aerate greens (USGA video)?


• The Anatomy of a Pitch Mark. Stanley Zontek.
• Repairing ballmarks (USGA video).
• Fixing ballmarks (video)

Budgets and Labor
• Setting standards: creating effective written maintenance standards is easier than you think. Lowe, Todd. 2005. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 43(5): p. 1-6.
• The economy and golf course maintenance. Brame, Bob. 2004. USGA Green Section Record. March/April. 42(2): p. 1-5.
• Required maintenance verses available labor – are you adequately staffed? Moore, Martin. 1988. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 26(1): p. 12-14.

Sand Selection

• How to select the best sand for your bunkers. Moore, Jim. 1998. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 36(1): p. 9-12.
• Sand selection and your game. GCSAA.
• Help your bunkers make the grade. Hartwiger, Chris. 1998. USGA Green Section Record. November/December. 36(6): p. 1-4.
• Why bunkers are not consistent. USGA Web site animations. .
• Bunker etiquette. USGA Web site animations. .

Rake placement

• Where should we put the bunker rakes? Nelson, Matt. 2005. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 43(1): p. 32-33.
• Should bunker rakes be placed inside or outside of the bunker? USGA Web site FAQs.

Construction/Renovation Issues (bunkers, greens, tees)

• Building the USGA Green- Tips for Success. USGA Green Section Staff. 2002.
• USGA Recommendations for a Method of Putting Green Construction. USGA Green Section Staff. 2004.
• Determining the Need for Reconstruction – Do the Greens Need to be Rebuilt? Moore, James F.
• A Troubleshooting Checklist for New USGA Greens. Moore, James F.
• Planting a Bermudagrass Green –
• So, you want to renovate your golf course. Oatis, David A. 1997. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 35(5): p. 1-5.

Divot Repair

• Divot repair etiquette. USGA Web site animations.
• Fixing divots. GCSAA.


• Is your course certified? Dotti, Paul. 2002. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 40(1): p. 17-20.
• Turfgrass and golf course benefits – a scientific assessment. Beard, James B.; Green, Robert L. 1993. USGA Green Section Record. May/June. 31(3): p. 26-30.
• Environmentally sensitive areas. USGA Web site animations.

Green Committee

• The ten most common Green Committee mistakes. Oatis, David A. 2003. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 41(5): p. 1-6.
• The Green Committee chairperson: are you up to the challenge? Moore, Jim. 1994. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 32(5): p. 8-11.
• A guide for Committee Members (USGA).

Greens Management

• Helping your greens make the grade. Moore, J.F. 1998. USGA Green Section Record. March/April. 36(2): p. 1-7.
• Making a great putting green surface. USGA Web site animations.
• TV golf versus daily play. USGA Web site animations.

Green Speed

• Use of the Stimpmeter. USGA Web site animations.
• Green Speed. GCSAA.

Hole Locations

• Requirements for a hole location on a putting green. USGA Web site.
• What is the USGA recommendation regarding hole locations? USGA Web site FAQs.
• Selecting hole locations. USGA Web site animations.
• Changing a hole location. USGA Web site animations. .

Hiring a Golf Course Superintendent

• Selecting a professional superintendent. GCSAA.
• The best and the brightest available. Vermulen, Paul. 2006. USGA Green Section Record. July-August 44 (4): 1-8.
• Hiring a professional staff. GCSAA.

Information Resources

• Audubon International:
• Education video clips. USGA Web site.
• Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America:
• Turfgrass Information File – Search all USGA materials is available free-of-charge.
• USGA Green Section Section:


• Does your irrigation system make the grade? Huck, Mike. 2000. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 38(5): p. 1-5.
• Using effluent water on the golf course. GCSAA.
• Water conservation. GCSAA.
• Watering for healthy turf. USGA Web site animations. .

Labor Issues – See Budgets & Labor


• Lightning safety. GCSAA.


• Pros and cons of fairway overseeding. Foy, John H. 1998. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 36(5): p. 10-12.

Pesticides (insect, weed, & disease control)

• Facts about golf course pesticides. GCSAA.
• Golf course pesticide FAQs. GCSAA.

Practice Areas (driving range, nurseries)

• Building a new driving range tee? Supersize it! Oatis, David A. 2005. USGA Green Section Record. July/August. 43(4): p. 12-15.
• The long and short of practice areas. Bevard, Darin S. 2001. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 39(1): p. 1-5.
• Nursery Rhymes. Bevard, Darin S. 2001. USGA Green Section Record. May/June. 39(3): p. 22.

Renovation – see Construction/Renovation Issues


• Roughing It. James T. Snow. 1998 USGA Green Section Record. Nov/Dec.26(6): p. 1-4.

Traffic Control

• Traffic, how much can you bare? Vavrek, Bob. 2002. USGA Green Section Record. July/August. 40(4): p. 1-6.
• Common sense cart paths. Oatis, David A. 1994. USGA Green Section Record. January/February. 32(1): p. 1-5.
• Golf cart etiquette. USGA Web site animations.


• Ten timely tips to avoid tree troubles. Vermeulen, Paul. 1990. USGA Green Section Record. September/October. 28(5): p. 15-17. .
• Trees on the golf course. USGA Web site animations. .
• It’s all in the presentation. Jeffrey Brauer.
• The right tree in the right location. David Oatis.
• Turf must trump trees on a golf courses. Mike Jennings.
• Make sure you plant the right free in the right location on a golf course. Mike Jennings.
• Deconstruction Zone. Dunlop White.
• The Cutting Edge. Dunlop White.
• Below the Trees. Dunlop White.


• Wildlife and habitat management information and case studies. GCSAA.

Winter Topics

• Politics, religion, and winter play on greens. Snow, James T. 1987. USGA Green Section Record. November/December. 25(6): p. 1-4.
• Frost issues. USGA Web site animations. .
• Golfers FAQ: Golf course winterkill. University of Nebraska.
• Winterkill of turfgrass. Kevin Frank.

The End