Mowing Patterns – Striped Fairways

Does a golf course ever look better than immediately after mowing, when the turf has been “striped”? Have you ever wondered how or why this happens? All golf course superintendents alternate mowing patterns in their regular schedule. The most obvious result of this practice is the aesthetic enhancement of the turf. There are, however, other less obvious reasons for doing this.

When mowed, turf has a tendency to lay over in the direction of the mower. By changing the direction of cut, the turf is encouraged to grow in a vertical fashion. This allows the golf ball to sit up on the turf and give the golfer a good lie. If the turf is mowed in the same pattern time and again, the turf will tend to grow in a horizontal fashion. This results in “grain”. Excessive grain can result in poor putting green quality. Because superintendents do not mow their greens in the same pattern every day, grain is virtually non-existent. (Remember this the next time you hear Johnny Miller talk about the grain of a green during a golf tournament.)

The alternating light and dark stripes you see on the golf course is caused by light reflection on the grass blades. During nationally televised golf tournaments, superintendents will mow tees and fairways in the same direction for several days. This “burns in” the pattern and results in increased visibility of lines for the television viewer. Failure to alternate mowing patterns results in uneven compaction and can also cause ruts in the soil.

It is easy for any homeowner to stripe his own lawn with a small reel mower. Just follow the information provided here to have your lawn look like a fairway. If you have any questions about mowing patterns or any other turfgrass topic, please contact your Golf Course Superintendent.