April 2, 2009

The Ladies At The Kraft-Nabisco Might Need Radar Detectors On The Greens

If you're a typical golfer, you've no doubt seen some fast greens in your time. In fact, some courses may even have a reputation for them. Faster greens put more pressure on your game because they reduce the margin for error, magnify breaks and can make things tougher all around for even the shortest of putts. Once those challenges get inside your head, look out...after all, too much thinking is a golfer's worst enemy. In championship golf, not having every bit of confidence over putts can make the difference between winning and losing, or even playing on the weekend. And that's what the LPGA players will be seeing this weekend at the Kraft-Nabisco championship that tees off today:
"The greens were rolling about 12 on the stimpmeter early in the week (a measure of how far a ball rolls out a notch in a stick on a flat surface) and someone even tossed out the possibility of the greens reaching 13 by the end of the week."
How fast is a twelve? As a recreational golfer, it's unlikely you've ever had to play greens that glassy. Here's a chart from the Turf Management school at Michigan State University to give you an idea of what a typical non-pro sees on their home course:

Speeds for Regular Membership Play (measured by Stimpmeter)
8'6" Fast
7'6" Medium-Fast
6'6" Medium
5'6" Medium-Slow
4'6" Slow

Speeds for Tournament Play
10'6" Fast
9'6" Medium-Fast
8'6" Medium
7'6" Medium-Slow
6'6" Slow

The main reason a superintendent doesn't keep greens at your club that quick are simple: many climates won't support it long-term in the summer. On top of that achieving fast greens on a daily basis requires more maintenance. Due to labor, material and equipment costs that makes it prohibitively expensive, and if anything is missed, or things go wrong the grass on the greens will die very quickly. Again, from Michigan State, here's a look into what is necessary:
Fast greens must be mowed more frequently. They must be verticut more frequently. They must be topdressed more frequently. Fertilization must be on a light and frequent basis. Watering must be done more carefully. Lower mowing heights needed to achieve fast greens also place the turfgrass plant under more stress. A reduced rooting depth can be expected under lower mowing heights. The shorter roots require more frequent irrigation and syringing during the summer to sustain the turfgrass plant. Shorter roots also reduce the grass plant's ability to recover from insect and disease attack. An increase in insecticide and fungicide use may be needed.
And if you're the super or the head pro, you can expect your higher handicap golfers to howl about how "unfair" the greens are. For example, on "Home" -- the 17th hole at Eagle Ridge, where I live, the green is a slope from left to right as you face it on the fairway, and Tom Kite and Bob Cupp, our course's designers, saw fit to put a false side along the right edge of the narrow green, with a 20-foot dropoff to a creek below that. Miss it right, you are dead, and in the water. A draw is a necessity, fades or slices are punished severely. I've seen dozens of golfers hit the green from the fairway only to watch the ball trickle off and roll all the way down into the gully. In fact, it is cheap entertainment to sit on our back deck and watch this happen over and over during golf season. And we've seen some incredible temper tantrums and flying clubs as a result. Can you imagine a green like that cut at tournament speed?

Pictured: Eagle Ridge's 17 Green looking back up the fairway. You can't see the drop off from the right side, but it looms over the top of the green in this picture. I call it "The Valley of Sin." Photo by Charles Boyer.


  1. I think most golfers feel the greens where they play 'stimp' a little quicker than they actually measure. They attempt to measure an area as flat as possible, but if you are putting downhill and downgrain on a freshly mowed green, you might thing the stimp is 12 or so. Simply, retrieve that putt and hit it uphill and upgrain for better reference. Our 9th hole is slanted slightly to the front and down grain back to front. If you are above the pin, you can go off the green and 30-35 yards back into the fairway. Not a lot of fun if your nassau was even going to that hole.

  2. That sounds like an incredibly tough putt. That's the sort I usually putt 1/3 of the way in from the toe of the putter, because you need to give the ball less impact while still accelerating through it.

    Our place has a number of optical illusions that still fool me after playing it a few hundred times. In fact, I have sworn I was going to take aerial photos of each green and then map them and make up my own yardage book.

    I would love to get a copy of a pro's notes on a given course to see how they do things.


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