Goldilocks and the Three Golfers

Green speeds should be matched to the contours and hole locations of greens.

Larry Gilhuly,
Northwest Director USGA Green Section

“The greens are too slow!” “The greens are too fast!” “The greens are just right!” No, this is not a story about three bears and a golden haired girl. It is a short story about a subject that is sure to stir emotions (usually during or immediately after a bad day of putting) – green speed. Somewhere along the road golfers have forgotten that part of the allure of the game is adapting to whatever playing conditions are found on the golf course. If the green speed of the practice green is a certain speed, then that is what the greens should be that day. Those that adapt will have a better day while those that don’t may find their score rising. But there is far more to this subject than I have space for, so let’s look at one simple part of the green speed equation – the correlation between green speed and hole locations.

Please note the chart below that shows the correlation between green speed and surface slope.
This study was conducted a few years ago as a means to educate those that wish to have excessively fast greens while not understanding the negative impact this has on the overall health of the greens and play of the game. Briefly, the % slope indicates when a golf ball begins to roll back at a player that has hit a putt from directly below a hole. While players can debate the appropriateness of a hole location when putting from above or to the side, there is universal recognition that when a ball rolls back at the player that the hole location is too severe. As you can see in the chart, a 10’ speed allows the maintenance staff to place holes up to a 3.2 – 4.1% slope. Since many greens are severely contoured and grain/wind have a major impact in Hawaii, this is a tournament green speed that should only be used for those with high skill levels unless you want 5 hour rounds. When holes are placed in relatively flat areas many have the perception that the greens are “too slow”. But place the hole on a slope (pick your favorite green) and putt downhill and downwind when the greens are in excess of this speed! Can you say – STOP!

Green speed in Hawaii has progressively gone up over the years with the introduction of new ultradwarf bermudagrasses and an improved understanding of seashore paspalum maintenance practices. Focus should be on overall green smoothness and a good understanding of the relationship between green speed and hole locations. Without this understanding the three bears will continue to be an issue with that defenseless game we play!

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