For the final part of our series on “Golfers’ Grumbles”, I thought I’d serve an extra helping of green speed debate, as it’s an issue that gets everyone hot under the collar.
In part four, I questioned whether we could use player feedback as an accurate and consistent method of assessing the playing quality of the greens. Player feedback is very important but not reliable enough to be the sole form of assessment used to direct greens management and maintenance. In addition to this there is real danger from using feedback only based on green speed.
Interestingly my study had found that green speed >8ft 6in was rated as fast by the >18 handicap group when comparing their ‘feel’ of speed against the USGA Stimpmeter classification for Regular Play (see the table below). Golfers with a handicap <18 were more critical of green speed. So, what is the ideal speed which will satisfy the demands of the club membership?
Firstly, we must understand the course type and design. Each course will have an architectural speed limit. Large flat greens will inherently feel slower than smaller and more contoured greens. Perhaps this is like driving at 70mph on a motorway, feeling it is slow, compared to 70mph on a twisty county road – a speed that is likely to see you leave the road and crash into a hedge.
The other dimension to green speed is the impact on maintenance and set-up. Breaching the architectural speed limit will reduce hole locations placing greater strain on the flatter areas of the green. This could lead to increased localised stress, additional compaction and poorer surfaces.
Somewhat inevitably the Stimpmeter classifications have become ‘targets’ and a means of course comparison which was never the intention. Nikolai (2005) suggests that the founding developers of the Stimpmeter were always aware that their tool was in the ‘wrong hands’ when used by the golfer. “The purpose of the USGA green speed comparison table was not to propose minimum standards for different categories, but rather to provide an objective test of green speed to enable superintendents to work towards more uniform putting surfaces over 18 greens” (Englel et al, 1980). The classifications remain current today even though no revision has been undertaken.
There is little doubt that the demands of the professional game have moved on since 1977 and machinery development and technology now allows the greenkeeper to cut at lower heights. It should not be taken as granted that simply lowering the height of cut will produce a faster or better surface. At a debate on mowing height held in the UK in 2010 the consensus of a panel, comprising of leading figures within the profession, was that the USGA speed chart has probably moved on by a foot for each category.
Analysis of STRI Programme data noted average parkland green speed 2016 (1st Jun to 31st Aug, 795 greens) was 9ft 2in and links green speed was 9ft 4in (652 greens).
Ask course managers what they feel is their target for routine main season play and the answer is commonly 9ft 6in – 10ft 6in. Green speed routinely below 8ft 6in would often trigger grumblings of inconsistency or slow pace. The fact is most members and committees do not fully understand the dynamics of green speed, but feet and inches is the universal language commonly read.
In a world of perceived ‘false news’ clubs must be aware of social media ‘bragging rights’ posting extraordinary green speed. This is fine so long as the measurements are taken correctly. Even taking into account the impact of wind, and the end result is not unplayable. 13ft may be great fun, a bit like going to the theme park for the day. Be prepared to queue for a 5-hour round and your handicap may start to creep up.
Remember that the Stimpmeter is a tool for consistency at your course. Achieve consistency and your authentic targets at the highest height of cut with the aid of sward refinements. Keep the records for your understanding and measurement against targets. There is little to be gained by tweeting what your green speed is.
I hope you enjoyed this “Golfers’ Grumbles” series. You can read all five parts on the STRI website by clicking the links below. If you have any suggestions for articles you would like me to write in the future, then please get in contact on Twitter or via the STRI Facebook page.
Part 1 – top dressing following aeration
Part 2 – bunkers
Part 3 – closures and inspections
Part 4 – green speeds
Part 5 – green speeds extra