Stimpmeters should require a license to carry

By |  June 19, 2017 0 Comments

A recent tweet from the USGA asked its members if they knew the green speeds at their home clubs. This by itself is no big deal. But the USGA was using this question to sell Stimpmeters to the general golfing public. That’s a problem.

With pressure to increase green speeds growing daily, why does the USGA want general access to a tool that potentially can drive the game ever closer to the cliff’s edge of sustainability and expense?

Fast greens require more inputs, more cultural practices and more staff attention to achieve and maintain desired speed. As golf gets disproportionally more expensive and takes longer to play, all golfers need to question the idea that golf is better with faster green speeds. Interesting, historic hole locations are lost at faster speeds. Extreme cases require some older courses to flatten their greens, adding cost and taking away interesting contours.

Responsibility for inappropriate green speeds doesn’t lie solely at the doorstep of the USGA. Yes, it has perfected a tool to measure green speed, but superintendents need to better communicate how to identify a range of green speeds that work best for a specific course. A speed limit should ensure hole locations are not lost and that pace of play does not slow down.

Correcting this trend of excessive green speed requires changing the focus for golfers. Many golfers who claim to want fast greens actually seek consistency over speed. Trueness eliminates surface imperfections that cause a ball to move offline. Consistent roll on slower greens potentially reintroduces lost hole locations, sees pace of play speed up and gets more variety and fun back on the course.

We forget the original point of the Stimpmeter was to establish consistency across all the putting greens. Unfortunately, that idea got lost.

Let’s take a page from the PGA Tour guidelines for course setup. According to the PGA Tour Course Conditioning Guidelines available online, a range of 9.5 feet to 11 feet on the Stimpmeter allows for speed to be adjusted for day-to-day challenges of Tour course setup. My favorite comment from the PGA Tour on green speed is, “Arbitrary and excessive green speeds can eliminate prime hole locations for the tournament, and this must be avoided.”

Comparing last year’s U.S. Open with The Open Championship offers stark contrast on attitudes toward green speed and championship golf. Royal Troon had it right. They managed green speeds to match conditions. Troon’s range in green speed during The Open was 9 feet 5 inches to 9 feet 11 inches, and on one day the greens went unmowed because of high winds.

Then we have Oakmont, where fast is faster and green speeds in 1935 led to the development of the Stimpmeter. We all agree that the unpleasant rules situation with Dustin Johnson’s ball moving on the green would have been avoided if the greens were slower. What would’ve happened if the wind picked up in the afternoon, leaving the course unplayable, with balls rolling off the greens? A simple solution would be to say the greens were too fast, and let’s make sure we slow them down in the future. Instead, the Rules of Golf have been changed to eliminate a penalty to the player for his/her ball moving, essentially whitewashing the source of the problem.

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis recently was quoted by Jaime Diaz in Golf Digest as saying that not all innovations in the game have been good, and specifically calling out excessive green speeds. Instead of pushing for faster green speeds, changing the Rules to allow for faster green speeds and selling Stimpmeters to general golfers, perhaps the USGA can lead by example and establish a reasonable range for green speeds in its championships, setting a standard from which the rest of golf could learn.

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