Golf's Evil Little Tool: The Sport Needs to Use it More Wisely

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIMay 20, 2010

MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Mike Weir of Canada putts on the third hole during round two of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on February 18, 2010 in Marana, Arizona.  (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Golf Pros love it. Golf Course Superintendents hate it. What is it?

A little device known as the Stimpmeter.

It was developed back in 1935 by an amateur golfer from Massachusetts, Edward Stimpson.

The USGA first used the instrument in 1976 at the U.S. Open, and it was made available to golf course superintendents in 1978. That is the key point. The device was made for use by golf course superintendents, not golf pros.

The intent by the USGA back in 1978 was for the superintendents to be able to measure the consistency of the greens on their golf course, from one green to the next. There was no intent to measure distance.

The Stimpmeter does not measure speed, as is commonly thought. It measures the distance a ball rolls. Someone, at some time, referred to the number the Stimpmeter produced as speed. Somehow it stuck. The device measures distance, not speed.

The official Stimpmeter is not sold to the public. It is an angled piece of metal (Edward Stimpson's was wood), that releases a golf ball at a certain point when raising one end of it, and the distance of the ball roll is measured from the release edge of the tool to the position where the ball ended rolling.

Usually you use three balls and get the average, and then you turn around and do the opposite direction. A somewhat flat surface is needed for the tool to work.

Superintendents like to use it for the original reason the Stimpmeter was made available to them; to measure consistency and the trueness of the ball roll. They do not like to use it to measure distance or, as it is commonly (albeit incorrectly) referred to, speed.

Golf pros love to get their hands on one (you will no doubt find one in most golf pros' offices, tucked away behind a door). They love to tell the members in the mornings what the greens are rolling. If they are rolling "slow," they try and find out why.

"Can you speed them up a little this weekend?"

"Can we get them up to 11 and a half for the tournament?"

"What's the deal? They are only rolling at nine?"

This mentality is dangerous for several reasons.

One, all golf courses are different. After watching the U.S. Open over the weekend, a green chairman may come back on Monday and ask the superintendent what the greens are rolling. He may hear 9 and half. "But the Open greens were rolling at 13! Speed them up!"

Comparing conditions on a golf course hosting a major tournament to the local private country club on any given Monday morning can be dangerous.

Plus, all greens are different. A golf course with undulated greens rolling at 10 can be quicker than a golf course with flat greens rolling at 13. If you sped those undulated greens up to 13, they would most likely be unplayable (Okay, I'm giving in and going with the term speed; too hard to fight it).

Two, the maintenance practices it requires to get those greens rolling faster can have long-term detrimental effects. Too low of cutting heights on greens and excessive rolling can open them up to all kinds of stress related problems.

Speeding the greens up for the big tournament coming up is one thing, but trying to keep them there day in and day out is downright foolish.

Golf courses around the world need to be aware of the "Augusta" factor, as golf course superintendents commonly call it. Which is, trying to emulate the conditons on the best golf courses in the world on your local course. Long term, it can not be done.

Unrealistic expectations are running rampant, mainly due to television coverage. Johnny Miller constantly talking about how slow the greens are on the course this weekend, only running at 11.5, is not helping.

USGA Agronomists across the country have been fighting the battle of trying to make golf courses aware of the negative impacts of fast greens for about 20 years now.

A great article that is almost 20 years old itself was written by USGA Agronomist David Oates;  IT'S TIME WE PUT THE GREEN BACK IN GREEN SPEED. In the article he has a great line: "There is a remarkably direct relationship between fast greens and dead grass..."

The Stimpmeter wasn't intended to be a superintendent's worst nightmare. It was made available to them to help them produce consistent greens. The intent of the device has been altered. We need to get back to that original intent.

Green speed should not matter. Greens should roll true and a good pace. Golf courses are too different for a "standard" to have any meaning.

Each course needs to determine it's own set of standards and goals, and, although they can go outside of those parameters from time to time, know when it becomes detrimental to the health of the greens and the long-term revenue of their golf course when doing so.


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