Weeds on the Golf Course: What Every Golfer Should Know October 11, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By George Waters, USGA Green Section

Weeds can be unsightly and may cause playability issues, but controlling them is not always easy. (USGA Green Section)


Weeds on golf courses come in all shapes and sizes. They can appear on tees, greens and fairways, and in rough and native areas – they can even be found floating in water features. They are often unsightly, sometimes unplayable, and almost always unwelcome. Here are some key facts about weeds on the golf course that every golfer should know.

Weeds are in the eye of the beholder

A weed is simply a plant that's not wanted in a particular area. It’s entirely possible for a plant to be considered a weed on one golf course and not on another. A great example is Poa annua. While some golf courses invest significant resources to control and remove Poa, it is the desired grass species at other courses and can produce excellent playing conditions. In naturalized areas, plants that look like weeds might actually be an important part of the ecosystem. For example, milkweed may not look like it belongs on a golf course, but this plant is key to rebuilding monarch butterfly populations and many golf courses are planting it in their native areas.

Some years are worse than others

Weed issues vary from year to year. In general, wetter years favor the development of weeds. Excess rainfall encourages weeds to grow in native areas that aren't normally irrigated and can cause desired turf on tees, greens and fairways to thin out, creating opportunities for weeds to fill the gaps. The timing of wet weather can also have a big impact. If frequent rain follows preventive weed control applications, the products can break down too quickly and lose their effectiveness. In those situations, a course may experience an unexpected explosion of weeds later in the season.

Things might get worse before they get better

Once weeds gain a foothold, it can be tough to control them. Weeds tend to spread rapidly and the options for addressing them can be limited, depending on the resources available. Products that control weeds after they emerge may also pose a threat to desired grasses at certain times of year. For example, during extremely hot summer weather a superintendent may be unable to apply herbicide to control weeds without a serious risk of killing the desired grasses. Sometimes weed control has to wait until the weather changes, or even until the following year when a more effective prevention program can be put in place.

Weeds don’t always have to be controlled

Some weeds have the potential to negatively impact playability and even the environment. In these cases, control is necessary. However, some weeds may have little or no impact beyond aesthetics. Isolated patches of clover on fairways or rough may not warrant the cost of a large-scale herbicide application or the staff time required to find and spray them individually. Weed control in naturalized areas can quickly consume vast amounts of time and resources, but those efforts may not make much sense if the goal in establishing naturalized areas was to save time and money in the first place. When it comes to weeds, golf facilities have to choose their battles based on the resources available.

The unfortunate reality is that weeds on a golf course can be very difficult to fully control. As golfers, sometimes the best thing we can do to help our favorite courses make practical decisions about weed control is to occasionally turn a blind eye to weeds that aren’t really impacting our game. Remember, it’s only a weed if you think it is.