By Robert Bicknell
OK, before I embark on my usual rant about something, I need to correct something from last week’s column… There have been three cars given away during the Norfolk Invitational Tournament, not the two that I mentioned.
The Hole-in-One’s happened in 2000, 2014 (Both at VGCC – Thủ Đức) and this year, 2019, at The Bluffs.
Sigh, it’s terrible to get old and I know it’s just a matter of time before I start wandering the streets in golf shirt, cap and golf shoes… but without my pants. I know that day is coming…
Speaking of The Bluffs and Norfolk Invitational, I had mentioned the green speeds during the Norfolk event were around 11.0 – 11.5 and got to thinking about how much the game of golf has changed since my younger days.
Some of us still remember watching “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” series (which you can still find on YouTube) and you cannot help but notice that players had a “popping action” when putting because the green speeds back then were ridiculously slow compared to today.
But how slow were they really?
Well, according to Golf Digest, when the USGA started using the Stimpmeter in 1978, they sent teams around to check green speeds at 581 courses and, believe it or not, most averaged around 6-7.
Even the two fastest greens in golf, Augusta National and Oakmont were only 8 and 9, respectively. So, what happened to allow greens to get so fast?
In the case of Augusta National, they switched from bermudagrass to bent grass, then installed a refrigeration system (SubAir) under the greens to keep the grass alive.
Growing up in the Northeast where the entire golf course is bent grass, I can vouch for the blazingly fast speeds because even our public courses averaged 10-11 back in the day, with two private courses rolling at 14+.
When you finished the round, you usually had to change your underwear.
The biggest reason for higher speeds of today, aside from better strains of grass and the invention of ultra-dwarf grasses for greens (tifeagle, champion, etc) was improved cultural practices by the head superintendents and improved maintenance equipment standards.
Back then, if you cut the greens to the heights we cut today, the greens would be dead within two days, if not sooner.
In a nutshell, gone were the days of superintendents who just fertilized and cut, the modern superintendent has a university degree in turf grass agronomy and put it to good use. In addition, courses were built with better materials and had better drainage.
Modern PGA Tour greens roll at about 12, while during The Masters, US Open, The Players and PGA Championship, the greens are around 13-14+.
Yes, I know people claim Augusta National’s greens are the fastest on the planet, but they actually stimp around 12 on “average” but the problem is there is no average. What makes Augusta National’s greens so blazingly fast is partially the amount of slope on them, but also because Augusta National intentionally varies the speed on each green to give them their own “personality”. There are some greens rolling close to 15+.
But if they had the 12th green rolling at 13 the hole would be unplayable with every putt from the back to the front rolling into Rae’s Creek, so the secret to Augusta National’s consistency is it’s “inconsistency”.
Now, if you want to talk “fast” and consistent, Oakmont Country Club greens average around 15 and they’re huge.
In case you’re wondering, Open Championship green speeds are usually around 10, unless the greens get overly dry from the wind, then they can become like ice.
So, the question is whether faster greens are easier or harder to putt on than slower greens?
In my personal opinion, I’d say faster greens are easier for a various reasons: You make a smaller stroke. Because the putter doesn’t have to travel far, it’s less likely to go off-line; a faster green has less grain and the ball is more likely to stay on line; they’re easier to read. Less grain means you primarily read only the slope.
Of course, the drawback to a faster green is that people who get nervous putting in the first place will be a mental case by the end of the round.
So, the pro shops should stock up on underwear… VNS