Poorly Kept Course With Perfect Greens Or All-Round Mediocre Course?

Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate which is preferable...

Perfect Greens
(Image credit: Getty Images)

GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether one key area of greenkeeping excellence trumps an overall standard of mediocrity.

Poorly Kept Course With Perfect Greens Or All-Round Mediocre Course?

Perfect Greens Says Fergus Bisset

There’s something rather depressing about all-round mediocrity in any area of life or experience.

A bland meal, lift music, a motorway hotel… things that are just ok but offer no thrills or excitement, scant variety and not a whole lot to elicit any emotion other than indifference… These things don’t really do it for me.

Likewise, I find playing golf on a course in all-round mediocre condition a little demoralising and uninspiring.

A course with perfect greens though has something to offer worthy of comment and note, even if it comes with a caveat that other areas leave something to be desired.

Walking off a course where you’ve enjoyed pristine putting surfaces, it would be difficult not to feel that, on some level, you’ve had a positive experience.

The tees may have been tatty, the fairways patchy and the bunkers a touch rough, but you were firing into velvet smooth putting areas of the ideal firmness.

They were rolling so smoothly and at the ideal speed, they were simply a joy to putt on.

I’m prepared to forgive quite a bit in other areas if I encounter greens of that sort of quality.

And let’s be realistic: The rest of the course isn’t going to be that bad is it?

As long as there’s grass to play from and some degree of definition, it’s hardly going to be intolerable.

Perfect greens also hint at great all-round potential.

Only a skilled greens team can produce surfaces of the very highest standard, so chances are they’re working towards overall on-course improvements too.

A course where everything is just about ok, demonstrates a lack of ambition and an acceptance of the average.

For me, perfect greens trump anything else a greenkeeper can achieve.

I will always enjoy and commend them, no matter what leads to and surrounds them.

Poorly Kept Course With Perfect Greens Or All-Round Mediocre Course?

All-round Mediocre Course Says Jeremy Ellwood

If ever there were proof that opinions can change, this would be the perfect example for me.

Not that long ago I would have told you that the quality of the greens is pretty much all that matters, and good greens can help hide a multitude of sins elsewhere on the course.

Now I’ve come full circle and am happy to excuse all manner of putting surfaces and general mediocrity if the overall experience is uplifting and worthwhile.

This volte-face is, in some ways, counterintuitive for I’ve also said many times that my putting is all that keeps my handicap where it is, so why would I not crave good greens above all else?

I think I’ve just became a little weary of golf’s obsession with the greens and their speed to the exclusion of everything else a particular course has to offer.

Would I prefer to be putting on slightly bumpy greens on an average course hugging the shore with the waves crashing in, or on pristine surfaces on an otherwise unmemorable parkland layout in the middle of the country? You bet I would!

I would far rather play an unheralded links than many quite well-regarded inland courses, even if their greens are perfect.

If you throw into the mix - as this debate does - that the course with perfect greens is otherwise pretty scrappy, the decision becomes even easier.

These days I’m looking for golfing memories that go beyond merely the greens and embrace the views, the ambience, the away-from-it-all feel or anything just a little bit different.

Put me on the ruggedly natural links on Iona with its sheep-tended putting surfaces any day over a suburban track where far too much of the annual course budget has been spent on manicuring the greens.

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Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?