For part four of our series of “Golfers’ Grumbles”, I will be looking at the thorny issue of green speeds.
Let’s start with the complaint that is levelled at most greenkeepers:
“Our members think our greens are too slow or at least slower than the course up the road!”
Before I enter the murky depths on the rights, wrongs and the demand for increasing pace, first let’s look beyond this. Namely are golfers actually accurate enough with their subjective opinions on playing quality and performance?
Rightly or wrongly golf courses seem to be subjectively judged on being better or worse than the neighbouring course. This is mainly based on ‘locker room chat’ and 19th hole bar room debate, comparing greens of one course to another. These comparisons are commonly centred on the ball roll speed (green speed). There has been so much data gathered and articles written on green speed it is probably one of the most intriguing, if not controversial topics, in all of golf. Yet other key performance characteristics are far too often missed.
The question must be asked “from what background knowledge is the comparison made?” Previous research has suggested that “on the same day that golfers think that the greens are too fast, others may think they are too slow”. This subjective opinion can lead to counter arguments. Common held beliefs include “greens being faster in the morning just after they have been cut” and “we don’t play our scratch team match until 5pm, so the greens are obviously slower!”
To cut through the mire of subjective opinion, I carried out a study to compare the results of objective measurements against player feedback for three key performance characteristics – speed, firmness and smoothness. The course is a run-of-the-mill private members parkland established around a century ago, with push-up constructed clay based greens which are Poa annua dominated. The course is well maintained with no vast budget resources.
The performance of a green does not deteriorate throughout the course of a day’s play?
The playing quality, of the greens, did not consistently significantly deteriorate AM-PM. It is expected that this would NOT be the case in all situations. A wider population of courses and players is required for further investigation.
On one of the study days, firmness, smoothness and speed all significantly deteriorated but players failed to detected a change. The player’s ability to detect changes in green speed was also questionable. They failed to detect significant reductions in speed on two occasions. They also observed changes in speed at times when there was no significant change.
The Golfers’ perception of surface firmness, speed, and smoothness will not significantly differ from objective measurements of playing quality?
There were significant differences between measured data and golfer perception.
Analysis of measurements compared to the subjective player opinion results concludes that less than 18 handicap golfers were more critical of smoothness as a playing quality. The lower handicap, less than 18 players, were found to be more aware of ball to turf interaction, including interpretation of firmness. However there is no evidence to suggest that they will be consistently correct in their assessment.
Conclusions can be drawn that player skill (handicap) does influence subjective assessment of firmness, but not necessarily correctly or consistently.
It was found that only the over 18 handicap category golfers rated the greens as fast. A suggestion for this difference in rating is that higher handicap groups found speeds greater than 8ft 6in as being out of their comfort zone. The club’s target green speed for routine play is between 9ft-9ft 6in. Because this study did not survey the golfers to determine whether green speeds were ‘too fast or too slow’ it could not be concluded whether overall player satisfaction in terms of green speed was being met.
This small study highlights that subjective player opinion is an unreliable method of assessing playing quality. Negative feedback may be incorrect but still used to wrongly influence maintenance decisions.
This negative feedback commonly comes from the more skilled players who are more demanding in terms of their expectations. This study does not support the belief that the more able golfer is more accurate in assessment of quality.