Making green speeds faster actually slows a golf round down

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 23, 2016 15:45

A significant study on golf green speeds has found that making the surface faster actually increases the length of time for golfers to play a round on that course.

The perceived long length it takes to play a round of golf is one of the most cited reasons why participation in the game has been dropping in recent years and, to combat this, many amateur golfers have called for the length of grass on greens to be set at a height in which the golf ball moves the quickest on it, the speed of which is usually measured by a Stimpmeter.

green dan perry

Flickr / Dan Perry

While the source for the study is a bit convoluted, it found that for every foot over nine on the Stimpmeter – the distance travelled by the golf ball between the device and where it rests – the length of the round increased by about 10 minutes (according to the USGA, 8.5 feet on a Stimpmeter constitutes a ‘fast’ green for a golf course, although it recommends 10.5 feet for the US Open).

According to blogger Geoff Shackelford, the study was brought up by Stuart McColm, general manager of Castle Stuart Golf Links, at a recent R&A ‘Time for Golf’ summit. McColm, states Shackelford, was quoting a study on green speeds by Dansk Golf Union in Denmark, which Golf Club Management has been unable to verify.

However, in the 2013 book Golf’s Pace of Play Bible: A Practical Guide and Plan for Improving Golf’s Pace of Play and the Science Behind It, by Lucius J Riccio PhD, it is stated that every foot of green speed per green adds up to 15 minutes to a round of golf.

According to the contributing editor of Golf Digest, Bob Carney, the industry’s fixation with faster green speeds is slowing the game down.

“Our obsession with perfect putting surfaces and double-digit green speeds — even for casual play — that’s the issue,” he said.

“Our demand for fast putting surfaces has added time, increased cost and actually corrupted the process of playing the game. Remember when golf had a nice hit-walk-hit-repeat flow? Now insert a 15-minute meeting in the middle of it — that’s putting — and you have modern golf. We’ve upset the balance of a game that had perfect balance. We putt with crankshafts and make strokes so tentative and fearful our playing companions want to yell, ‘it’s good! Let’s go!’

“Fast greens are fun to putt, but they are a costly luxury, costly in so many ways. I can still remember the day we played the stroke-play club championship qualifier on surfaces running between 12 and 13. It took an hour longer than our usual rounds on greens of nine or ten.

“Al Radko, the former USGA green section director once said ‘no matter where the golfer is putting from, it should be possible to stop the ball within two feet of the hole’. That sounds easy, but on greens of 11, 12 or 13 it’s rare that weekend players can do it. Instead of tap-ins, he or she must take time to line up that second, and often third, putt … tick, tick, tick … and then dramatise the miss. Fear of three-putting then infects pitches and chips to such greens, requiring more ‘planning’.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 23, 2016 15:45
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  1. Ian Muir April 16, 11:17

    Slow play can be sorted in one simple and easy stroke of the pen: remove all men who’s handicap is greater than 18. Problem solved.

    Reply to this comment
  2. John Daniel March 24, 16:31

    There are a few seriously slow players (ssp) in every club, then there some very slow players, then slow players, then just slowish players; lastly a few who are able to play at a reasonable pace. Putting and fast green will have a limited effect. Everyone blames the SSPs which is unreasonable when the majority of players are “slow”. If everyone improved their own pace of play and did this consciously there would be a dramatic improvement. Don’t blame others look to your own game first,

    Reply to this comment
  3. Paul Gilbert March 23, 19:20

    Marking the ball, buggy paths, buggies, carts, bad golf, slow walking, dawdling, all these factors contribute more to slow play than ”fast” greens. Better golfers appreciate good greens. Slow greens can actually be harder to hole short putts than fast greens, and what about bumpy greens? 3 putts in a four ball slow up golf for sure.
    Maybe make compulsory 2 ball days! 3 hour rounds the norm with a 2 ball.

    Reply to this comment
    • John Ross March 25, 13:32

      Paul Gilbert, why do good greens have to be fast! define fast, define good! define good golfer! When you have defined fast, can you show me evidence that suggests good golfers want them!

      My perception of a good golfer would be 5 and below, but that is simply my perception, i know people who think i am good because i make contact with the ball, i guess all things are relative.

      Oh and PS the average handicap of a golf club is long removed from any perception of good!

      Part of the problem of the greens speed argument is lack of data other than stimpmeter readings, stimps mean nothing to 99% of golfers (Remembering that 97% of statistics are made up)

      The research in the above article put some fact behind the argument, it was based on data, unlike you and I who speak from the simple lofty perch of opinion, a location that clouds any rationale.

      Reply to this comment
      • LWM March 25, 22:03

        John, I’m a good golfer – multiple state and regional championships – and the faster the greens the better I like it. I think the argument over green speed starts with the facility. If you tell Winged Foot, for example that they should reduce the speed of their greens from 11+- to 9 in order to speed up play they would tell you to go pound sand.

        A public course with a lot of play from casual golfers that has the greens running any higher than 9 are problematic. So I guess I would say it’s all relative and common sense should apply.

        In other words, a mandate from the USGA or GCSAA telling all courses that for the good of the game they should reduce the speed of their greens to between 8 and 9 on the stimpmeter would probably fall on deaf ears.

        And average golfers knowing about stimps is irrelevant, it’s those who use the stimpmeter who need to know about the stimpmeter. The average golfer only needs to know, at the end of the round, he had fun…and the average golfers behind him also had an enjoyable round because the pace of play was good.

        Finally, to sacrifice the quality of one’s putting experience strictly on the altar of pace of play is a mistake. There are plenty of other ways to increase pace of play. My favorite is to rate all golfers as “A”, “B” or “C” Players based on their pace of play and give the “A” Players preferred tee times as follows:

        “A” Players – 1st Tee Time of the Day – 10 AM
        “B” Players – 10:10 AM – Noon
        “C” Players – Noon or Later

        A foursome is given tee times based on the rating of their slowest player (e.g. All players in an “A” group must be “A” players).

        How do you rate them? Easy…you send a player assistant out with their group for no more than three holes on their first visit to the course and the player assistant gives them a rating based on the amount of time it takes them to hit a shot and subjectively scores them on other areas of etiquette such as being READY to hit a shot when it’s their turn. The player is stuck with that rating for a minimum of one month. You keep a record of his rating in your tee time system or you keep a spreadsheet. Piece o’ cake…

        Trust me, this concept will speed up the pace of play of everyone!

        Reply to this comment
        • John Ross March 26, 10:38


          Oh dearie dearie me!

          Reply to this comment
          • LWM March 26, 12:50

            Nice reply. So very substantive. What must it be like to live in that ivory tower of ever-present self-righteous indignation? Now do tell us, dear spiritual leader, what is YOUR solution?

            My reply to your first post was based on this ignorant comment…”When you have defined fast, can you show me evidence that suggests good golfers want them!”

            So, I showed you evidence that good golfers want fast greens: Me. But trust me, John, virtually every good golfer wants fast greens. Now climb down out of your ivory tower and join the real world.

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