Green Speed

No single aspect of a golf course seems to generate more discussion than the speed of its greens. So integral is green speed to some that an entire evaluation of a golf course can be based solely on the greens. Everything else becomes secondary and some other rather glaring deficiencies are overlooked (see ignored) if the greens are rolling quick.

So what is a fast green?

Well, its all relative and VERY subjective.

If you spend all your time putting on greens running at 7 foot, a 9 foot green will seem very fast by comparison. The inverse is true though if you play on an 11 foot set of greens then going to 9 will seem very slow. Also to consider is the degree of slope present. Downhill putts will seem faster while uphill will require more force. So if you spend your round hitting the ball well and find yourself past the hole regularly, you will come away with the impression that the greens were faster due to the number of downhill putts. Spend the day striking the ball poorly and you will experience more uphill shots leading to the conclusion the greens were slow.

See, VERY subjective!

So, what are some of the factors that affect green speed? Right, Deep breath.....

- Height of cut
- Verticutting
- Mower maintenance 
- Rolling
- Topdressing
- Brushing
- Type of mower
- Mowing frequency
- Fertility
- Surface moisture
- Surface firmness
- Renovations (coring etc)
- Staff numbers
- Course budget
- Organic matter content of profile (thatch)

- Grass species
- Soil type

- Humidity
- Time of year or season
- Climate
- Time of day
- Geographic location

- Green design/contour
- Player ability
- Traffic or number of players

The first group, identified in red, are factors that we have a certain level of control over. Decisions are constantly made regarding these contributors and their level of influence. These "inputs" cant however be viewed in isolation as they are impacted by the other three groups.

The second group, in blue, are key factors that theoretically could be altered given enough time and money. For our particular situation though they are best viewed as being outside our primary zone of influence.

The third group, highlighted in green, can loosely be combined under the general heading of "Weather". These are definitely beyond our control and therefore we must adjust the factors we can control to accommodate the impact.

The fourth group deals with further areas we cant exactly exert much control upon. Green design that leans too far towards excessive contour will greatly limit what speeds can be safely achieved while retaining playability. Likewise, a predominantly higher handicap average membership will struggle with faster greens where low handicappers would not.

Green speed ratings chart as produced by the USGA

So, how is speed actually measured?

With a Stimp meter!

The stimp meter is a tool used in golf course maintenance that rolls a golf ball with the same amount of force each time. The distance the ball travels from the bottom of the stimp meter is then measured in feet and inches  This is normally done with three balls one way and then three balls in the opposite direction to give an average that balances out any slope of the green.

Created by Edward Stimpson, the purpose of the stimp meter was to achieve a method that allowed comparisons to be made between either greens within a course or the same greens but over different time periods. This removed the subjective nature of people declaring greens to be faster or slower than others as it was able to be accurately assessed. Even though it first came about in 1934, it wasnt until 1976 that the stimp meter was really adopted in golf course maintenance.

A ball rolling across a green after being "released" from the stimpmeter

So, the stimpmeter was never intended for registering "speed" of greens as such, it was for carrying out comparative evaluation between greens within a course to assess consistency. It has since however been used as a way to ascertain the "speed" as this has become an important, and in my view slightly misguided, goal.

The take home message from all of this is to hopefully help players appreciate that a target green speed is not something that can ever be guaranteed as there are numerous moving parts to the equation. All the best laid plans can be undone by one of the many factors outside of our control.

Also, don't let the focus on green speed be an overriding criteria that prevents you from seeing and appreciating other positive attributes of any golf course.

Good Golfing

The Maintenance Team

Hamilton Golf Club


  1. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I will make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

  2. Hi there. I seldom supply remarks but this time is an exception. Your post was truly handy,
    and can be applied in much of our lives. I have shared your post as well on Facebook and Twitter.
    And not to point out, I have actually bookmarked
    your site! I actually hope that you will continue writing terrific topics like this.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Hi There. Thanks for the feedback! Green speed is certainly an in depth topic and I was just aiming to look at it a little differently and try to educate people as to some of the challenges we face. Cheers


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