In the spring of 1975 as Technical Director of the USGA I was asked by Al Radko who was in charge of the USGA Green Section to develop a device to quantify the speed of greens. He gave me a device developed in 1935 by Eddie Stimpson—a Massachusetts amateur golfer – which he said was a device he had come across which didn’t quite do what he wanted. I went to the drawing board and designed a couple of devices — very accurate, too intricate and cumbersome and therefore impractical.
I knew that the device Al had given me a couple of weeks earlier, had too many sources of errors but the concept enthralled me because of its simplicity. So, I went about designing a similar concept which checked all the required boxes to quantify the speed of greens accurately and consistently. Out of respect for Eddie Stimpson’s original design we called it the Stimpmeter.
Over the following summer we measured green speeds of Country Clubs in 35 states. The analysis showed that the average speed of greens at these sites was 6-feet 6-inches. I set up a reference guide for green speeds: 4’ 6” as Slow; 6’ 6” as Average; and 8’ 6” as Fast. For competition play the range jumped by two feet making a fast green at the US Open 10’ 6” (in 1977).
Over the next 20 years agronomic practices and mowers improved significantly – to the extent of allowing the fairway on the 18th hole at The Olympic Club in the 1998 Open to measure just over 6’ 6”, the same as an Average speed green in 1977. When we think about the question of distance, these agronomic factors relating to fairway speed and conditioning should not be lost in the discussion. Rollers were also introduced, and today green speeds can exceed 15-feet, without killing the grass plant.
This may sound like progress but the downside of having very fast greens is that this compromises the architectural designs of many greens on some of the most classic courses, by reducing the number of possible hole locations by more than 60% of the intended original design.
Unfortunately, the green speeds demanded by some greens committees – who take pride in how fast their greens are and therefore how difficult their courses are – has detrimentally affected the attractiveness of many classic courses. The degree of undulations on a green and the potential hole locations – generally about 24 — should dictate how fast the greens should be, to make a round of golf an enjoyable challenge. For everyday play, most greens should not exceed 9-feet. Fast greens also have a detrimental effect on the goal to speed up play.
The green speeds at The Masters are carefully and closely monitored and will assuredly be appropriate to challenge the world’s best golfers. My guess is that they will “Stimp” at about 12 to 14 feet depending on the conditions.
Enjoy this wonderful week of golf.
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Click to view video of Frank talking about the invention of the Stimpmeter on The Golf Channel