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Comparing practice ranges to horse-racing tracks

By |  August 4, 2020 0 Comments
Photo: Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger

Maintaining a quality practice tee enhances the golfing experience while contributing to the success of the golf club. The practice range tee is the golfer’s first impression of the golf course. To golfers who are either practicing or taking a golf lesson, the practice range is a direct reflection of the quality of the club’s professionals and golf course superintendent.

The dynamics of a practice tee in how it is set up and moved as the season progresses is reminiscent of horse-racing tracks. In horse racing, there are two types of tracks: dirt and turf. In the United States, most horse races, including prestigious events like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, are run on dirt tracks. In other parts of the world like Europe and South America, the majority of horse races are run on turf. Interestingly, “turf” is a term often specifically associated with horse racing.

Club Hípico de Santiago is the oldest horse-racing track in Chile. The club has 86 race meetings a year. A race meeting is a series of races taking place at the racetrack over a day or series of days. At Club Hípico, 14 to 20 races take place during each meeting with around 13 horses per race. The majority of race meetings are on turf.

To handle the turf wear and divoting caused by the racehorses, the track itself changes. As in practice tees, providing a strong agronomic base is important in maintaining a healthy and safe turf. For example, the turf base at Club Hípico is bermudagrass. However, during the season, the turf is overseeded with perennial ryegrass to help provide a uniform cover.

To help reduce concentrated traffic from the racehorses, the dimensions of the racetrack slightly change during the race season. The inside rail that horses congregate along is mobile. At Club Hípico, for example, the inside rail is moved outward 4 meters (~ 4 yards) after two or three race meetings.

Initially, or for an important race session, the rail is set at the innermost part of the turf track, designated at 0 meters. After a few race meetings, the rail is moved outward by 4 meters to the 4-meter mark. As the race sessions continue, the rail is moved to the 8-meter mark, then the 12-meter mark and then maybe the 16-meter mark. As the meetings progress, the pattern for moving the inner rail is repeated. This is done to allow for repair and recovery of the turf in the high-traffic area.

Designating practice tee hitting areas follows the same concept of the mobile racetrack rail. Once the overall hitting area of a practice tee is defined, which is usually 2- to 2.5-yard strips across the width of the tee area, hitting stations are established within the strip. Hitting stations are often defined with dividers, bag holders or buckets of balls. The hitting stations vary in width depending on the situation, but the reported width is about 3 yards.

Assuming most golfers are right-handed, they will tend to use the right-hand portion of the hitting station. This is important when moving the hitting station the following day. By moving the hitting stations to the left approximately half the hitting station width, you should get two days of hitting out of one station.

With the coronavirus ever-present, social distancing will need to be considered when determining the width of the hitting station. The downside is that the number of hitting stations may decrease, but the actual number of days you get out of hitting from one station increases.

Maintaining a season-long healthy and desirable practice tee depends on a number of factors, but rotating the hitting station efficiently is a major key. Whether from the heavy-traffic area along a racetrack’s rail or from the divot side of the hitting station, consistent and slight changes can increase the use and duration of the turf.

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