Golf Course Striping: Do Those Stripes in the Grass Matter?

An example of golf course striping

The term "striping" is used by golf course superintendents and grounds crews to refer to a pattern left in the grass after mowing with lightweight mowing equipment. The pattern might be horizontal or vertical stripes, or it might be a crosshatch or checkerboard pattern of alternating light and dark squares or diamonds.

The pattern that results from striping is caused by the blades of grass lying in different direction after the turf was mowed in different directions. Blades lying in different directions will cause sunlight to reflect differently, making the patterns stand out.

"Striping" is not a golf term, it is a turfgrass maintenance term. Picture a baseball field or a football pitch you see on television with a pattern appearing in the field grass. Those patterns aren't the result of mowing at different heights, they are the result of mowing in different directions, pushing the grass blades first one way and then another.

The Purpose of Striping On a Golf Course

What's the point of striping a fairway (or even, more rarely done, a putting green)? Purely aesthetic. When you see a striped golf course on television or other screen, you probably think, "that's pretty cool!" or just, "hey, that's pretty."

There you go. That's the point of doing it: It looks good.

For a golf course superintendent to get stripes that really stand out however, the crew needs to settle on a pattern and then mow that pattern over time. A single day's mowing won't have much effect. But the same mowing pattern on the same fairway over the course of weeks or, even better, months, will result in striping that really pops.

Creating the stripes over time is something superintendents call "burning in the stripes." (No actual "burning" is done, of course, it's all just mowing.)

Striping Is Not a Universal Practice

Whether a golf course stripes its fairways or any other parts of the golf course is up to the superintendent at that facility. Some superintendents shy away from it because there is the risk, if it is not done correctly, of causing a poorer roll/bounce of the golf ball on the grass, or even of damaging the turfgrass. Not all strains of golf course grasses take well to striping, either.

So striping is something that is done on a course-by-course, crew-by-crew basis.

Golf courses that host major championships or high-level pro tournaments often stripe only in the month or so prior to the tournament's start, ensuring both great-rolling turf and an aesthetic pop for the television cameras.

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