Lo, the Practice Green

By: Dave Castleberry

Lo the practice green: An area of closely mown grass containing six to nine holes and those cute miniature pins sticking out of them. Every course has at least one, as do a lot of driving ranges and practice facilities. If we could all get ourselves to spend more time there we would assuredly become much better golfers. And yet, most of us trudge off to the driving range to work on getting rid of our hooks, slices and dreaded shanks (oops, I didn't mean to write that word out loud).

Why is this? We know that we should be practicing our putting. It has been preached far and wide, from the halls of St. Andrews to the cliffs of Pebble Beach, that the fastest way to lower scores is to improve your putting. Jack Nicklaus used to say (and probably still does) that not everyone was blessed with his talent to hit the golf ball and will most likely never obtain such ability no matter how hard they worked. But anyone who played the game could become as good a putter as he was if they worked hard enough.

But how many of us have ever dreamt of hitting a 6-foot putt like Jack? Seriously, have you ever yearned for the sweet feeling of the ball coming off the center of the putter-face, watching in anticipation as it rolls majestically toward the cup, tumbling over the edge . . . okay, I'll stop now. Let's face it, we dream of the big drive soaring straight down the middle. Not the short putt rolling straight into the hole.

Aside from all that, putting practice is boring. Just take a look at the practice green the next time you go out to a golf course. I bet you see a grand total of two people: the club champion and the guy with the yips (sorry, I didn't mean to write that either). Compare that to the amount of people on the driving range and it's obvious where our priorities lie.

And there is always the issue of practice green etiquette. The oft-broken, yet seldom talked about unwritten rules of the short game sanctuary which are routinely broken by unknowing duffers who add misery to our already boring workout with the flatstick.

So what are these rules and how do we identify the chief offenders? Well, I'm glad you asked. My apologies to anyone offended by the following. Just please keep in mind that there is an entire population of golfers who'd like to improve their rock-rolling ability in peace.

The most common offender is the "Can't Decide Which Hole He Wants to Putt At" golfer. This guy always seems to be camped out on the green when you arrive, and for whatever reason, any hole you choose to putt toward his little white Spalding seems to get mixed up with your balls. At first, you just give him a look and a polite nod. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, you think that maybe he didn't recognize you were aiming at that hole. After the second violation you're not as polite. You hope your best grunt-and-glare combination will throw him for a loop and send him to a hole on the far side of the green. This only makes him a bolder and ruder hole-intruder. The next time both of your balls are clustered together beside the same hole he actually has the gall to swipe your balls out of the way as he searches for the one with the Spalding logo. You feel violated. And with the thought that this guy is lucky you're not prone to violence as you sigh heavily while retreating to the other, less-populated side of the green.

Just as annoying is the "Bad Chipper." At first you feel bad for this guy. Put him on the deck of a boat and tell him to chip it into the water and he'd be lucky to get one out of three into the ocean. Like an observer to a bad car accident, you can't seem to pull your eyes away from the carnage. You begin to get a little annoyed when the divots start flying onto the green. Your frustration grows as a couple of his misguided attempts come rolling your way, and you no longer feel sorry for him. In fact, you're thinking he's so bad he should not be allowed to practice when others are within 100 yards, and the thought crosses your mind that in the name of safety you should seek higher ground. But you stand firm, you were here first and are proud that your presence isn't endangering others. Just then, he knifes a Pinnacle into your ankle. You make a mental note never to let your pride get in the way of sanity again as you limp toward the pro shop to request they put a "No Chipping" sign beside the putting green.

Last, but certainly not least, is "Mr. Gadget." This guy watches way too much of the Golf Channel. A litany of strings, tees, alignment aids, and balls with different-colored stripes painted on them are arranged all around his section of the practice green. And believe me, he feels as though this is his section. Wander too close and you'll feel his wrath, which he cleverly disguises as quotes from Dave Pelz's "Putting Bible." The best way to get rid of this pest is to challenge him to a putting contest. Like Solomon without his locks, he crumbles without his trusty putting aids. He knows this, of course, and will most likely decline your offer and slink off with his gadgets in tow.

Managing to avoid these people on the practice green is half the battle. The other half is easy. Simplify your practice sessions. In fact, don't even think of it as practice. The putting stroke is easy, a simple back-and-through motion, much like walking. You don't practice your walking, but you walk to stay in shape. So don't think of it as practicing your putting, think of it as putting to stay in shape. Fifteen minutes a day from 10 feet on in is all it takes and you'll watch your putting improve and your scores drop.

At the very least, annoying golf pros won't feel the need to write nitpicky articles about your practice habits.

Dave Castleberry is a member of the PGA and currently the head professional at Cedarcrest Golf Course in Marysville, Wash. Born in Fort Lewis, Wash., Dave and his family moved to Marysville when he was 2 years old. After graduating from Marysville-Pilchuck High School, he attended Washington State University where he earned a degree in Communications in 1995. He began his career in the golf industry on the maintenance crew at the Plateau Club in Sammamish, Wash. Dave spent three years on Plateau's crew, the last two as the irrigation technician before becoming a PGA pro in the year 2000. He spent three years as an assistant pro at Plateau before moving on to Sand Point Country Club in Seattle in 2004. During his time at Sand Point, Dave served as chairman of the Western Washington Assistants' Committee and was named Assistant Professional of the Year by his peers. He began his tenure as Cedarcrest's head pro in March 2007. He currently resides in Lynnwood, Wash., with his beautiful wife of three years, Jennifer.

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