High-quality greens are top of the list for most serious golfers when they consider optimum conditions for golf, and there are few more satisfying feelings in the game than striking a putt on the intended line and watching it roll smoothly home. But, what makes a great green? And, how is it achieved?
Speed or Reliability?
In 1935, Edward S. Stimpson designed a device to measure the speed of greens – the distance in feet a golf ball will roll after a known force is applied on it. The Stimpmeter is still widely used. Most golfers have heard of it and can relate to the numbers it produces. Club golfers often talk about Stimpmeter readings when comparing the quality of greens at different courses. Speed is certainly a factor when considering a great putting surface, but is it the only element to consider?
Perhaps more important is the reliability of a green, the smoothness and trueness of a surface. If the ball runs unerringly across a green, even if not hugely quickly, then it would be hard to argue against the quality of the surface.
The Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) has a suite of tools to measure performance on greens. A Clegg Impact Hammer gives figures for firmness, while both moisture levels and thatch content can be measured. Then, the “Trueness Meter” gives values for lateral and vertical deflection. STRI has collected data from thousands of greens across the country in order to establish benchmark figures for different course types.
A new piece of equipment called the “Greenstester” can give clubs understandable and meaningful results. The Greenstester has been used to develop the R&A’s “Holing Out Test.” In this, the device is set, usually a distance of six feet from the cup, in such a fashion that a series of 10 consecutive “putts” can be replicated. On good greens 10/10 “putts” will be holed. If 20% or more miss then there could be an issue.
So a Golf Club can now measure the characteristics of their greens and compare results against benchmark figures for firmness, moisture content, trueness and speed. How, then, do they go about matching those benchmarks?
A key starting point is good drainage. Fundamentally, all the best greens in the world, wherever they are, drain well. It may be inherent drainage because the course is located on sandy terrain. Or it might be because good drainage has been introduced during the construction process. But either way, good drainage is essential.
Sound maintenance practices are, obviously, key and greenkeepers must go through the fundamental processes to deliver the best surfaces: Aeration by tining or coring, fertilising, irrigation, top-dressing – these operations have to be done correctly at the right times.
Golfers might grumble at maintenance programmes, but it has to be accepted that good greens and effective maintenance are inextricably linked. The objective must be to have the greens in the best possible condition for as much of the year as possible. In order for that to happen, there must be short periods where essential maintenance is carried out.
The whole process then, is one of collecting and collating information and using that information to put the correct, and most appropriate procedures in place to achieve the best greens possible: Analysing the greens by taking measurements and benchmarking; then looking to maintenance operations that best move the greens towards those benchmarks. It looks simple on paper, slightly more testing to achieve in reality and that’s why top greenkeepers go through years of training both on and off course.