2004: Features - Making a mark (disappear) at Medinah

Medinah, Ill.

Golfers at Medinah Country Club, site of the 2006 PGA Championship and 2012 Ryder Cup, have been instructed to turn in their old ball-mark repair tools.

If this is something like turning in their guns, the irony has not been lost on Danny Edwards, winner of four PGA Tour events and the leading advocate of a new ball-mark repair tool that could change the complexion of modern golf greens.

This new tool is called GreenFix. It features short tongs rather than the long teeth used in traditional ball-mark repair tools. At Medinah, the GreenFix tool is distributed to all members and guests. It is carried by caddies and even by members of the maintenance crew.

The tool is used to push the ridges of a ball mark back toward the center of the crater.

Push is the operative word here – push rather than dig. According to Edwards, golfers long have been misinformed. Digging, gouging or twisting ball marks with a long-tonged tool can do more damage than good. It can cut the roots and kill the grass around a ball mark.

In 2001, Edwards founded GreenFix Golf (licensing the concept from Canadian golf professional Terry Wiens, its inventor). For three years, Edwards has been fighting for recognition and acceptance of the new tool and the putting greens maintenance program that goes with it.

Although he encountered resistance from golfers, club professionals and even golf course superintendents, he doggedly continued his crusade. “A lot of people are afraid of change,” Edwards said, “but I believe in this so much that I wasn’t about to give up.”

Such determination was nothing new for Edwards, who was named 1994 Entrepreneur of the Year in Arizona after starting golf grip manufacturer Royal Grip and battling valiantly with industry leader Golf Pride. (Royal Grip later was acquired by the company that became Royal Precision.)

In his new quest, Edwards now sees a groundswell of support. As a result, the standard ball-mark repair tool could become a relic.

Earlier this year, Medinah became the first high-profile golf facility to adopt the GreenFix program promoted by Edwards. The program includes an educational and instructional campaign for golfers. Its centerpiece is the ball-mark repair tool with short tongs.

Medinah is not the only club to subscribe to this theory. Others include Aronomink outside Philadelphia, Norwood Hills in St. Louis, Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., TPC of Boston, TPC at Summerlin in Las Vegas, Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., and DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz. All have banned traditional ball-mark repair tools and are distributing the GreenFix implements to golfers.

A study at Kansas State University, under the direction of professor Jack Fry, showed that a ball mark fixed with a traditional tool healed in about six weeks. The healing time for a ball mark repaired with a short-tonged tool was shortened to about two weeks.

Critics have pointed out that Edwards and GreenFix helped finance the Kansas State study. “The study was completely independent,” Edwards countered. “We contributed some money for the expenses they would incur.”

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has yet to take a position on the new tool, although some of its individual members are advocates.

“My club was one of the first to sign up for the entire program,” said Pat Gradoville, superintendent at Palos Verdes. “We have been on the program since September (2003). It has definitely made a difference with fewer ball marks, but the biggest improvement has come from golfers not doing damage to the green with conventional ball-mark repair tools.”

In addition to popularizing the new ball-mark repair tool, Edwards has installed flip-up tongs in the butt end of putter grips (there are five different grip styles, all conforming to the rules of golf). A golfer places the putter head in his hand and holds the club at a 45-degree angle to fix ball marks without bending over.

Initially this method can feel awkward. Said Bill Sword, president of Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C., “I have one of the grips on my putter, but I’m having a hard time getting used to it. I’m not completely sold on the idea.”

Edwards used to run into resistance, but clubs now are opening their doors to him. Medinah president Bill Kamm is a fan.

“We had a lot of skeptical members,” Kamm said. “Now they come up and say, ‘I was wrong. I don’t know why it works, but it works.’ ”

Edwards points out that “with a traditional tool, golfers usually end up killing grass outside the ball mark because they’re digging around so much. So the area of dead grass kind of grows.”

Medinah superintendent Tom Lively, who oversees three golf courses, has produced such impressive greens (with a mix of A1 and A4 bentgrass) that golfers and officers from other clubs have been flocking to Medinah No. 3 this year to see the difference.

“When the pushing motion (with the GreenFix) is done right, it closes the hole (ball mark) better,” said Lively, who has worked closely with architect Rees Jones on a renovation project that included the removal of several hundred trees on No. 3 and the return of the 17th green to its old location along the water.

When the PGA Championship returns to Medinah in 2006, will the club be able to convince touring pros to turn in their old ball-mark repair tools?

“I’d like to think so,” Kamm said. “Everybody wants better greens.”

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