Turf hack: Tennis (balls), anyone? A maintenance strategy at Shinnecock Hills

Golf course maintenance equipment at the U.S. Open features some brightly colored, highly practical accessories.


Mower tennis ball
The Shinnecock Hills maintenance team has borrowed from another sport to help keep their operations running smoothly. Photo by Howard Richman

Roger Federer isn’t working for superintendent Jon Jennings, CGCS, during the U.S. Open this week, but tennis balls are in abundance at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.

Shinnecock Hills equipment manager Kevin Stoeckert has incorporated tennis balls into the strategy when he sends out fairway and approach mowers. They’re at about eye level, hanging from a string tied to the machine, and if a mower operator sees an issue with another mower up ahead on the course, the operator releases the ball from the string and throws it ahead to alert the operator who has the problem, such as a hydraulic leak or a tire issue. This signals to the mower operator with the trouble to immediately halt.

Jennings has seen the tactic deployed in other places, including Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. “If something does happen, you want it to stop, fast,” Jennings says.

Stoeckert uses Tourna tennis balls, which the company says are pressure-less and never go flat or lose bounce. The tactic came in handy earlier this week when a mower on No. 14 picked up a piece of metal from a marker flag. The mower operator says he heard a clicking and thought he’d run over a rock.

“We come out and hope to fix it on the spot,” Stoeckert says. “This process totally makes sense.”

So much so, Stoeckert says, that he may keep the tennis balls in his repertoire. “It’s an easy way to keep things under control. I’ll probably keep them on our units,” Stoeckert says. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.