Sand may be ubiquitous in the Ocean City resort area, but to a group of members at Ocean Pines Golf Club, it’s a commodity that can mean the difference between a hole that’s merely passable and one that’s a pleasure to play.
Known as the “Sand Dawgs,” the group was formed in 2018 by Ocean Pines Golf Club member Nelson Fenwick as a way to help maintain the health of the course. The volunteers are tasked with sanding divots – pieces of turf that become loosened when the ball is hit – in the fairway and repairing ball marks on the green.
Although the golf course maintenance staff, led by Superintendent Andre Jordan, is responsible for the overall condition of the course, wear and tear caused by play is something that is usually left up to the golfer to handle.
“A responsible golfer takes care of the course,” Fenwick said. “Sand or replace divots, fix ball marks on the green, rake the traps – polite things. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.”
That’s where the Sand Dawgs step in. The group’s sixteen members are each assigned a hole or two for which they are responsible; four alternate members fill in when needed. They inspect and maintain the holes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis during the prime golf season, which generally runs April through October.
Volunteers are encouraged to head out on the course with bottles of sand – tinted green to blend in with the grass – when golfers aren’t around. “It’s best if you’re not even seen,” Fenwick commented, which may mean working on the hole early in the morning or late in the day.
The extra effort required to repair the divots and ball marks makes a difference, according to Fenwick. “As an example, an untreated divot takes three to four weeks to recover. A sanded divot takes a week,” he said. Similarly, a repaired ball mark will heal in two to three days as opposed to a week for a mark that hasn’t been repaired.
The Sand Dawgs also complete a hole report, which allows them to alert maintenance staff of any areas of concern on the course “that affect playability or safety,” Fenwick said.
He cited “widow makers,” or dead branches hanging from trees that may fall and hit a golfer or course employee, as one of the safety items they monitor. They also look out for excessively wet areas on the course, signs of stress on the green or golf course property (bunker rakes, for example) that might have been stolen.
Fenwick meets with Jordan on a weekly basis to share the hole reports and to discuss which issues can and cannot be addressed. The results of those discussions are passed along to the rest of the members of the Sand Dawgs.
The maintenance staff agrees that the work that group performs has been helpful, according to Fenwick. He commented that Jordan has expressed appreciation for what the Sand Dawgs do and that it has made a difference.
As someone who plays the course regularly, Fenwick said he has seen a change as well. “The biggest difference as a golfer that you notice is how many of them [divot marks] have grown in.”
But perhaps the greatest impact the group has made is the example it sets for other golfers. He commented that the Sand Dawgs have helped raise awareness among the rest of the golf membership about the importance of repairing ball marks and that he has noticed an increase in repairs on the course.
“That is a testament to the job both the Sand Dawgs and other members are doing,” he said.
An 18-hole championship golf course and the only one on Maryland’s Eastern Shore designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Ocean Pines Golf Club is open to the public year-round and is available for outings and tournaments.
For more information about Ocean Pines Golf Club, contact John Malinowski, PGA director of golf, at 410-641-6057.