How Smooth Are You?

The first question I get as a turf manager from members and visitors is 'What speed are they today?' and it's very true, speed matters a great deal to golfers. Golfers generally love quick greens. When have you ever heard a golfer say, 'Wow those greens were amazing, they were so slow!'. Not often I bet. However, for us turf managers, while speed is important (especially for bragging rights), smoothness is undoubtedly the key ingredient for top quality greens.

Personally, I hate slow greens. As a former decent golfer (yes, I used to hit a fairway once), if I went to play a golf course where the greens were sluggish I would be counting down the holes waiting for the 18th to get off the course. But far worse than this were quick, bumpy greens that you used to get in the English springtime with those northerly winds. A round in March when the greens were lightning fast but bumpy, would produce putting strokes where, if you watched carefully, you could just about see a backswing! So for me, even though I still detest slow greens, if they are true they remain superior to quick bumpy ones.

So now that we have established that smoothness matters and rates above speed, how do we measure it?

As I reported in my September blog 'Greens Performance - Are you measuring it?' the STRI brought a tool out a couple of years ago called the 'trueness meter'. The device is outstanding, giving precise data on lateral and horizontal movements of the putting surface. The R & A now use it for The Open Championship to record smoothness data. The only problem with this tool is cost. At present, according to an STRI agronomist, it costs £12,000 to purchase. So unless you have a spare £12k knocking around in your course budget, how do you measure smoothness? I've come up with a system that might just allow you to do so for a cost of a stimpmeter (£50), 3 golf balls (£10) and the golfer's golden rule, no cheating!.

I collate data on my greens regularly. Everything from organic matter levels to percolation rates is measured. I also perform weekly performance tests where I measure speed and on course actual cutting heights with a prism gauge. It was during this time with a stimpmeter that I started to think about how I could rate ball roll. So I implemented a system based on a 10 point scoring system:

  • Go to a flattish location on one of your greens where the hole cup is (try to keep to the same green weekly if you can).
  • Measure a distance of around 6 feet (don't go under this distance but if the greens are quick you will have to go further away).
  • Place the stimpmeter on a small bracket so that it is angled around 25%. A small bucket (as shown) or an old hole cup will do.
  • Send the ball down naturally allowing for it to finish 1 foot behind the hole. Once you have this measurement then you are at your optimum distance (remember, it must be greater than 6 feet).
  • Now adjust the meter so that the ball travels in to the centre of the hole on a regular basis. This may mean that the meter is facing the right lip position for example so that it takes a slight break and drops in the middle of the hole.

Once you have done this you are now ready for the test. Send down 10 balls and score accordingly:
  • 1 point if it finishes in the centre of the hole, 1/2 a point if it goes in the right or left half and zero points if the ball misses.
  • After 10 balls you should have a score out of 10. So for example if you sent down 10 balls, with 8 going in the middle, 1 slotting in the right half and 1 missing, you score 8.5 out of 10, a perfectly reasonable score. On the other hand, if you send down 10 balls and 3 go in the middle, 3 in the right half, 1 in the left half and 3 miss, you have only scored 5 out of 10, so get that top-dresser out to smooth those greens a bit.
This system may not be as scientific as the STRI's trueness meter, but it certainly costs a lot less! If you did start to implement this system on a weekly basis I bet your life that very quickly you will see how good or smooth your greens are. Either way, just like speed, measuring smoothness is a crucial element in judging how your greens perform on a daily/weekly basis. Your golfers demand it!