So many golfers espouse a love for fast greens, especially when someone else has to putt on them. But when weekend warriors get on quicker putting surfaces, they tend to not perform as well. Three- and four-putts rule the day, and otherwise skilled golfers can be embarrassed by borderline conditions on the greens.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a joint study conducted by the USGA and the University of Minnesota found a correlation between faster green speeds and slower pace of play.
The study found an increase of one foot in Stimpmeter reading — say, going from a 9 to a 10 — led to each player requiring 6.39 seconds more per green, or a total increase of 7.67 minutes in a foursome’s pace. In more extreme cases, perhaps on greens with severe pitch changes and multiple tiers per green, that per-player-per-foot increase was as much as 25 seconds, or 30 minutes per round.
In addition, players said they had a slightly worse experience on the faster greens.
The Science of the Green combo group conducting these joint studies expected there to be a bigger drag on pace with faster greens, but nearly 8 minutes per round is something substantial when golf courses can send out players in 7-minute gaps between groups. This can be particularly true on courses with a full tee sheet, like a well-maintained, pricier publicly-accessible course. At a resort where play is more sparing or a country club where members hop around, green speeds are more a source of pride and likely less a drag on pace.
However, there are other significant considerations when hiking green speeds. In the name of fairness, superintendents have fewer hole locations available to them on most putting surfaces. The costs go up to keep greens at such speeds, including more manhours for upkeep of the Stimp measurement and protecting against grass stress at those heights and conditions.
The same could probably be said about long rough and narrower fairways, but that wasn’t in this study.
While lots of players clamor to putt on quicker greens, taking them beyond 10 on the Stimpmeter makes it less enjoyable for most of those players. There is a floor, too, where greens are too shaggy and slow to offer a genuine, modern challenge. The sweet spot in the U.S. is probably in the 8.5-10 range.