University of Arkansas researcher Dr. Doug Karcher has studied the affect of golf shoes on turf since 2016.
© Fred Miller/ University of Arkansas

It may seem a bit esoteric, but with U.S. golf courses averaging more than $900,000 a year in maintenance, according to GCI’s State of the Industry research, knowing what types of soles are best for the turf is no small thing.

In response to superintendent concerns about damage caused to putting surfaces by modern shoes, the University of Arkansas’ Dr. Doug Karcher and Michigan State’s Dr. Thomas Nikolai, started a project in spring 2016 looking at the issue with support from the USGA.

Karcher and Nikolai formulated two major objectives: look at a variety of different golf shoes to see if they were as bad as metal shoes and see if there are agronomic practices that could cause more or less damage by a given shoe. Shoes examined included those with very aggressive treads and cleats and those resembling a teaching shoe a club pro would wear all day. As far as management practices, Karcher and Nikolai studied topdressing, irrigation, grooming and fertilizer rates on four different greens at Michigan State and in Arkansas on Bermudagrass, bentgrass and annual bluegrass.

A study being conducted by the University of Arkansas and Michigan State is looking at the relationship between turf damage and shoes.
© Fred Miller/ University of Arkansas

For objective one, the two simulated foot traffic on turf plots with different putting green heights at more than a dozen sites across Arkansas, Michigan, Naples, Fla., and Carnoustie and St. Andrews.

“Our data is basically showing there are differences among the grasses and there are differences among the shoes,” Nikolai says. “The big meat and potatoes is how the putting surfaces are maintained. We’re doing research on how to best take care of the putting surface so it minimizes the impact of any shoe.”

Karcher says, “today’s shoes do not do as much damage as the metal spikes. It’s just a perception.”

“Today’s superintendents do such a good job, the grasses are so improved, better groomed and close to perfect that any imperfection caused by a shoe is more noticeable today,” Karcher adds. “It’s as if the supers are victims of their own success.”

“Ironically, golf course superintendents have created such smooth putting surfaces that some golf cleat/sole designs have become too aggressive,” Nikolai says. “Case in point, almost no one complained about spike marks prior to the 1990s.”

Another finding is that the shoes many golfers and superintendents complained about the most had flatter soles and fewer cleats.

“They only had seven vs. nine or 11 for other shoe models,” Karcher says. “With fewer cleats, there were more pounds per square inch per cleat – making them more aggressive on the turf.”

The researchers looked at wear on the turf, simulating 30 rounds of golf on a putting green.

“We had golfers grade the surfaces, A, B, C, D or F. An ‘A’ would show no sign of being walked on. ‘B’ has some signs, but won’t affect the putt,” Karcher says.

In Arkansas, ultradwarf Bermudagrass can survive with much more aggressive shoes without having too much damage. There was also no key difference between annual bluegrass and bentgrass. Both showed a fair amount of damage, but bentgrass showed slightly more damage perhaps because of its stolons – sideway stems, which annual bluegrass lacks.

Irrigation and drainage also had a role in damage. More moisture meant more damage.

Where play is heavy, the turf may need more irrigation for general wear tolerance and recovery, but the turf must also be dry enough to play.

“It’s a fine balance,” Karcher says. “Most superintendents are using portable meters to use just the right amount of water.”

Industry buzz

Greenworks launched its latest in battery-powered equipment with its line of Lithium Ion zero-turn mowers during an event at Mooresville Golf Club, near the company’s North American headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. The two newest pieces of Greenworks equipment, the Lithium Z 82V GZ 60R Ride-On Mower and the 82V GZ 48S Stand-On Mower, were developed to be true gas replacements, said Kevin Gillis, vice president of product development at Greenworks.

Florida Governor Rick Scott toured the Air2G2 factory at GT AirInject, in Jacksonville, Fla. Scott was greeted by GT AirInject President Glen Back, who described to Scott the turf industry’s economic impact in Florida.

The Biltmore Hotel, a national historic landmark established in 1926 and luxury hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., announced plans to restore its 18-hole, 71-par Donald Ross-designed course. Brian Silva will oversee the $2.5 million project which will add new Bermudagrass on tees, fairways and greens, incorporate new bunkers, enhance practice areas, and extend course length to more than 7,100 yards.

Tartan Talks No. 25

Todd Quitno tells his family those involved with golf course architecture are “saving the world one golf course at a time.” Using that logic, Quitno has spent his entire career solving worldly matters.

The affable, enthusiastic and often comical Quitno discussed a variety of subjects, including why having fun allows him to handle the perils of a tricky profession, on a recent Tartan Talks episode.

“I have a lot of faith in people,” he says. “What we do is not rocket science, it’s not brain surgery. I enjoy people and the variety of work that we do.”

Quitno started working for Bob Lohmann after graduating from Ball State in 1996. Earlier this year, Quinto was elevated to senior vice president of design with the newly named Lohmann-Quitno Golf Course Architects. Enter into your web browser to hear Quitno explain his relationship with Lohmann, why viewing golf from a consumer’s perspective is beneficial, and the differences between design and project management.