0 Golf green speeds

Golf Green Speed - How Fast Do You like Yours?

By Simon Barnaby B.Sc. MBPR

Golf green speed is probably one of the most contentious issues on the golf course, and one which can give the course manager the biggest headache.

Fast greens are sometimes perceived to be good greens but this is not necessarily the case. This theory is probably partly due to televised or tournament golf and in particular The US Masters! The Augusta syndrome is a common phenomenon, where after the US Masters has been shown on television there is an enormous amount of pressure put on Greens staff to produce fast greens. However, it would be almost impossible to produce that level of turf quality on a regular basis at a normal golf course. Augusta is only open for 6 months of the year and even then rounds of golf are restricted.

Heights of Cut

At the moment average green heights of cut in the summer months is between 4 - 6mm, this is slightly higher in the winter months. One would think that the easiest way to produce quick greens is to cut the greens lower or roll them. However, this can actually have the reverse effect!

Grass Species

The majority of golf course greens in the UK are composed of a mixture of grasses ranging from colonial Bent grass (Agrostis sp.), Fescue (Festuca sp.) and Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua). The Bent and the Fescue grasses are the desirable species, as they provide the best year round surfaces to putt on. However, Annual Meadow Grass is a ubiquitous species and is generally found in most fine turf situations. This species grows in clumps and patches and is susceptible to disease attack and is generally considered to produce poorer greens.

The more 'pressure' that is put on the greens, will weaken the desirable grasses and allow more Annual Meadow Grass to invade. This pressure mainly comes from excessive rounds of golf and very low heights of cut. Therefore if the Greens staff have pressure put on them to reduce the height of cut this can actually, in the long run, make them poorer greens and ultimately slower greens.

If good management practices are adopted with sensible heights of cut, this will help to encourage the desirable species, which produce the best, most consistent greens to putt on.

Measuring Green Speed

Golf green speed can be measured with a device known as a Stimp meter. It is normally an aluminium bar, which is calibrated to allow a golf ball to run down its length and along the surface of a green. The distance the ball rolls is measured which can then give an assessment of the current speed of the green.

The table below shows different green speeds produced by the USGA

Speed for normal play


Tournament play


8' 6''


10' 6''



Medium fast


Medium fast






Medium slow


Medium slow





Some people think that this device actually creates more problems for the turf manager. However, if it is used correctly it can be a valuable aid. It is most useful if it is used to ascertain consistency from one green to another. In this situation it can be used to adopt a management program that creates consistent conditions around the course.

Turf Management

Golf greens can be managed to produce firm, true putting surfaces without the need to cut them down to excessively low heights. Some of these routine treatments include: light and frequent top dressing, regular light verti cutting treatments, good surface and sub surface drainage, a balanced minimal nutrient input, and minimal use of irrigation.

Rollers were considered to be very much out of fashion, as over use can cause soil compaction, which can actually increase invasion of Annual Meadow Grass with the subsequent problems discussed above. However, occasional light rolling can help to increase green speed without the need to lower grass cutting heights.

There are new innovative products coming onto the market that actually reduce the rate at which the grass plants grow - in affect miniaturising them. The advantage is that the green speed can be increased without the need for lower heights of cut. In American this is a common practice, although in the UK we are still at the early stages of development in this area.

New Grass Varieties

In recent years the industry has seen the introduction of new 'creeping' Bent grass varieties that can be cut down to 2- 3mm and can produce extremely fast greens. The 'jury' is still out on these new cultivars. There is no doubt that they can produce good greens but some experts feel that they are not particularly suited to UK conditions.

There are even companies that have bred fine leafed versions of Annual Meadow Grass, with the assumption of 'if you can't beat it join it'. Once again experts are divided on this issue, although early reports are promising. However, it is very expensive!


The USGA guidelines set out for green speeds are achievable with good management techniques and if the course manager is not pressurised to significantly reduce heights of cut. The Stimp meter can be used to good effect to measure consistency from one green to the other not to see how fast the greens can get up to.

In my experience the best golf greens are the ones which are consistent from one to the other including the putting green. All golfers appreciate smooth, true surfaces where the ball has a good 'roll' and does not 'pull up' quickly or rapidly deviate from it path.

Simon Barnaby B.Sc. MBPR is aturfgrass agronomistwith Scotts UK Professional

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