Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Green Speed and Consistency

All of the greens have been back in play for just over two weeks now.  The initial excitement of having a full golf course to play is understandably wearing off and thoughts are turning to quality. One of the questions I have been asked is, "Why are some of the greens slower than others?"  In order to answer that I needed to know if it was in fact true.  The member that asked the question is a very reasonable, honest person whose opinion I respect so I set out with my stimpmeter to measure our greens speed.  For those who don't know what a stimpmeter is, please watch the following video:

What I found was that our greens varied in speed from 9 feet to 10 feet.   Our "normal" green speed in the past several years would be 10 to 11 feet with our target being 10.5 to 11.  When we get over 11 feet some greens become almost unputtable with very few hole locations being fair. My guess is that some of the inconsistency talk results from the greens being slower than normal.  In our minds, we all know that being above the hole on greens like 4, 5, 14, and 16 can result in a very defensive putt.  That is not the case at lower greens speeds and when a putt that is normally very fast is left short, it messes with our heads and we start to over think things.  The reverse scenario often plays out around club championship time.  The perception is that I make the greens quite a bit faster for the event when the reality is they are only about 6 inches faster than normal because if I made them any faster than that some of them would be unputtable as stated above. Couple that with having to hole out every putt in a tournament situation and you have a recipe for missed putts.  The perception then becomes that the course is tricked up when in reality it's not much different than normal.  By the way, I am guilty of the same thing when playing golf at other golf courses so I really do understand the comments.  Having the career that I do has taught me many things about people. Our perception is among the most interesting - it is fascinating to me how golfers playing the same course on the same day will often have completely different views of it.

Overall the slowest greens were the new and winter damaged greens while the existing greens were a fairly consistent 9.5 to 10 feet.  The reason for the new and damaged greens being slower is that they have been fertilized and watered more often to encourage their growth and recovery.  This makes for thicker grass and more resistance to ball roll.  This highlights the dichotomy of my job - I am normally more of a playing surface manager than a turf manager.  If I were managing for healthy turf alone, I would not mow every day at very low heights of cut, roll several times per week, and withhold water and fertilizer in an effort to achieve fast, smooth greens.  I have had to treat the new and damaged greens with my turf manger's hat on in order to get them healthy.  An old saying in the industry is, "First you get healthy then you get fast."  It's sometimes easy to forget that we are dealing with a natural system which does not always react as we expect.  There are a lot of variables at play and a year like this one requires caution and restraint.  We still have a lot of young, tender plants out there that need time and nurturing to mature.  As David Oatis from the USGA put it to me, "if you're thinking of doing something aggressive on greens this year - don't do it!"  

For those interested the following is a link to an article on golfer perception as it relates to green speed:  Golfers Perception of Greens Speeds Vary  

Once I am confident that all of the greens are able to withstand the practices that go into achieving faster greens, I will start pushing them toward that goal.  

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