It was in the 1970s that the question of green speed entered the conversations of golfers. Previously, most leading Great Britain and Ireland golf courses had fine fescue/browntop bent grassed greens that ran true and were fast when dry and slower when wet.
With the introduction of automatic irrigation systems and a 'target-golf' philosophy from America - encouraged by the likes of South African four times Open Champion and brilliant putter Bobby Locke - many of our finest courses' greens changed to the weed annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with all of its attendant non-conservationist problems.
The issue of having a consistency of speed, irrespective of weather conditions, became sought after by those building a plethora of newly bulldozed, conurbation-located, hotel-affiliated courses created during the golf boom of the eighties and nineties, often utilising lush farmland.
More recently, since the advent of some greenkeepers managing their Poa annua weed grass greens by shaving them down to 2mm, the question of green speeds has risen again to be an important topic of conservation.
I recently played on some 2mm Poa greens that, luckily, were predominantly flat as the speed was over twelve on the stimp. The primary challenge to scoring a low medal round on this flat 'target-golf' course revolved around not three putting! So I felt it was time to get some facts into the discussion
I invited Master Greenkeeper, Norbert Lischka - The Turf Fox, to offer advice, following his outstanding work, particularly at Hamburg Golf Club in Falkenstein, Germany and 'Le Pines' Hardelot Golf Club in France. His logo emphasises the need for mutual respect between golfers and greenkeepers; a concept fully endorsed by FineGolf.
Norbert writes: "The PGA recommends a putting speed of between eight or nine feet (2.5-2.7m) for daily recreational play, with a maximum of ten feet. For national and international tournaments, they recommend up to eleven feet (3.00-3.30m).
When green speeds are very fast, golfers take more putts and spend longer over them. Taking more than three putts on a green is generally unfair and, in addition, golfers may lose the joy of playing. So, this important requirement of not repeatedly three putting should lead us to how to set-up a course, which is dependent on a number of factors.
Green speeds depend on:
- Soil conditions: Firm greens tend to be faster. We should be looking for sandy with balanced humus structure and a reduction in the quantity of thatch.
- Drainage capacity of the greens: Drainage of rain and irrigation water should be quick.
- Location: The location should be a drying one - depending on shade, sun and wind.
- Weather conditions: Rain, fog and high humidity reduce the green speed.
- Type and density of grass: Lush dense sward is generally too wet and dries slowly. Greens with predominantly fast-growing, high-fertilised Poa annua normally have to be mown with a lower cutting height or perhaps twice per day, especially during the blooming period, to stop them putting slowly.
- Fertiliser: Too much fertiliser leads to slower greens as the grass gains a boost to growth, thus natural fertilisers without phosphates and with low amounts of nitrogen per application 1-2gr/m² should be used.
- Maintenance: Speeds are influenced by verticutting, grooming and topdressing. The speed can be increased by rolling (ironing), mowing twice or by using pedestrian mowers.
- Irrigation: Too wet greens are soft, dry slowly and leave bumpy footprints, encourage casting worms and leave particularly deep pitchmarks.
- Undulations: On heavily undulated greens a reduced green speed should be aimed for, also depending on the pin position.
- Cutting height: In general, the lower the cutting height the faster the green speed and the more stress the grass is under.
- Unevenness: Pitch marks which are badly or not at all repaired, as well as sand thrown out at bunkers.
Greenstester versus stimpmeter
The green speed is measured by a stimpmeter or a Greenstester. Edward Stimpson invented and designed the stimpmeter in 1935. Nick Park invented and designed the Greenstester in 2012.
The stimpmeter is simpler and cheaper, but the ball bounces as it hits the ground, whilst the Greenstester presents the ball to the ground more smoothly and is, therefore, more accurate.
If the Greenstester is used with The R&A's 'Holing-out-Test', it can additionally be used to objectively measure the reliability of a green's smoothness and trueness performance which is as, if not more, important than speed.
The speed of green is measured by the distance the ball travels after leaving the device at the repeatable velocity. On each green, several measurements are made from different starting points and different directions which are then averaged (see table).
The greenkeeper is expected to adjust the green speed to the players' skill level and, considering undulations, to position the flag accordingly.
Anything beyond the recommended figures for the daily play at golf clubs or tournaments creates a competition between golf clubs and greenkeepers and arises from an individual greenkeeper's personal ego problems. It also increases the pressure on other greenkeepers in the area to immediately increase their speeds by shaving their greens.
Comparisons with other golf courses and their greens are not helpful and don't make sense, as there are very often big differences in a number of ways, including rootzones, grass species, light and wind influence and maintenance intensity (number of greenkeepers).
Negative impacts of high speeds from low cutting heights are:
- additional stress for the grass with increased disease
- extra time and effort for staff
- supplemental extra input of water, fertilisers and chemicals
Additionally, the maintenance intensity has to be increased which results in significantly rising costs.
Too fast a green increases the number of putts. More than three putts per green is unfair and the fun for the game gets lost. Each extra short putt increases stress and compaction around the hole and extends the time on the green by up to 30%."
Lorne Smith invites you to register at www.finegolf.co.uk to receive the free FineGolf bi-monthly newsletter. It now reaches over 7,500 golfers and greenkeepers around the world and keeps them up to date with new course reviews or articles that have recently been published