Cutter D. Cupp asks, ‘Why do they move pins on greens every day?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

It's a maintenance issue.

The PGA Tour thinks in terms of "four tournament pin settings with different levels of difficulties." We do plan for play variety, having some "tucked pins" for tournaments, versus open areas for faster, easier play. However, having only four pin areas is impractical for highly played courses. The classical design idea of small greens for short approaches is impractical today. Green size is a function of spreading play around, requiring bigger greens on all holes.

That's because the 3-foot diameter around the pin setting gets worn, requiring daily cup movement to allow recovery. Full turf recovery takes three weeks, varying with agronomic problems like traffic, shade, humidity, and air movement. So, I actually plan for at least 24 cup locations, because we usually lose some cup areas somewhere between planning and playing.

Each course must develop a cup-setting scheme that rotates wear areas and provides balance of length, hole-location difficulty, and that doesn't unduly favor any shot pattern, say, by having five cups in a row set on the left side of a green.

I have seen superintendents divide greens into three (front-middle-back), four (a four square), five (four square with diamond), eight (sliced pizza pie) and nine (tic-tack-toe) sections for systematic rotation. (A seven-day rotation puts cups back in the same location for Saturday-morning regulars.) I design for six-cupping areas, using an abbreviated tic-tac-toe board:


Each of the six areas boxes usually has six pin positions, about 24 to 36 total. We add 12 feet around the green perimeter to keep the pin 10 feet from green edge, plus a few feet for a collar.

We encourage the superintendent to set three pins daily in each green area, generally following the numbered sequence above on each green to move the pin as far as possible from the previous day's location. Play variety comes from setting the back left pins on Holes 1, 7, and 13, Holes 2, 8 and 14 would be right middle, etc. However, they must customize their settings to balance a mix of easy, medium and hard pins daily. They can also maintain the scorecard yardage daily by using back pins when tee placements are forward, and vice versa, but many feel varying yardage is better for variety.

Minimum green size (based on width of eight 6-foot-wide pin diameters, and length of 13 6-foot-diameters) is about 48 feet by 78 feet, or about 3,000 square feet. This allows adequate cup rotation, but only if the entire green interior has slopes of less than 3 percent. In practice, most greens are bigger, with 6,500-square-foot average, and have many more interesting interior contours where they never set a cup.

Forty-eight feet is the narrowest practical green width to avoid concentrated foot traffic and excessive turf wear. I have also found that if the edge diameter is less than 48 feet, mowing damage occurs along the green edges, leading to fairly simple green shapes.

Like golf architects of the past, we design for a mix of play and aesthetic factors. While we can debate the merits of the first two endlessly, practical experience shows that if we don't design for heavy play by providing enough pin setting, we won’t get the level of maintenance golfers expect.