Stimpmeter, A love story

There may be no bigger scourge to the golf course superintendent, than the stimpmeter. This recent Twitter thread put some of these thoughts on full display. This 3-foot long aluminum stick, originally designed to measure putting surface consistency across a particular course, inevitably became a way for courses to measure themselves against other courses.

This blog is not the typical stimpmeter hate mail, this blog is more of a love story.

I would not start out by calling my previous relationship with the stimpmeter hate, probably not even dislike. A more accurate word would be ambivalence. The greens at my first course, Northland Country Club, were very severely sloped and difficult to stimp. On the occasions of big events, I might take the stimp to the 13th (flattest) green and get an idea of the speed. Mostly though I’d putt on them and listen to golfer comments to judge whether our practices were producing the requisite speed. As I would come to find out years later, the fact we rolled every single day probably had a lot to do with the speed. I once had an employee approach me to say; “I’m not complaining, but I wanted to let you know I’ve rolled greens 27 days in a row.” He was REALLY good at rolling greens, but don’t worry, he did something different the next day. This story has always been a funny reminder to me that we never skipped rolling at Northland, and we almost never had complaints about greenspeed.

Fast forward a number of years and during the final green committee meeting of 2018, a member asked me; “when you stimp, do you stimp multiple greens?” My answer was no. I felt like I wanted to stimp every day, but something always seemed to get in the way. My stimping routine went something like this:

Monday-didn’t mow or roll, what’s the point?

Tuesday-Stimp the small putting green. Disappointed in the number…shrug.

Wednesday-Stimp the small putting green. Number is better.

Thursday-Forget

Friday-Forget

Saturday-Too many people around.

Sunday-Didn’t go into work and forget to have someone do it for me.

I’m kind of making this up, but you get the picture. I did it sometimes, only on one green and because it did not seem important enough, I let other things get in the way.

In June of 2019, Hazeltine hosted the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and of course, we stimped a lot of greens in the morning and evening. When we hosted the Ryder Cup, we stimped a lot of greens, both in the morning and the evening. Why? Consistency of course, and to make sure we were attaining the speed desired by the PGA of America’s setup guru Kerry Haigh.

Following the KPMG, I thought: “why am I not stimping multiple greens every day?” My brother, an accountant said: “I would think the stimp is a number you would want to know everyday.” When it comes to numbers, my accountant brother is someone worth listening to. So, starting June 25th, I stimped an average of 10 greens every day until October 16th, when I stopped for the season.

Here’s my method:

  • I will typically do the stimping myself, shortly after the final prep of the surface (either a mow, a roll, or both).
  • Our numbers are not posted, but they are also not a secret. I’m happy to share the numbers with anyone who asks. As time has gone on, many of our members who see me stimpmeter in hand, enjoy guessing the day’s number.
  • I have a subset of six putting surfaces across the course that will always be stimped. Often I’ll do more, but if I’m gone and one of the assistants stimps, I only ask them to do the usual six.
  • I generally use the same location on each green, each time.
  • I use a tape measure for accuracy and I don’t cheat-I write down the actual numbers. Since we do not post the speed, there’s no benefit to recording a number that isn’t 100% accurate.
  • I use the Brede Method to compensate for the effect of gravity. This makes the selection of a location easier because the surface doesn’t need to be level, the ball only needs to roll straight. On a flat area, the Brede correction is small. The greater the distance between the uphill and downhill roll, the larger the correction.
  • The numbers are entered into a spreadsheet, where the speed is identified using the Brede equation of (2 x uphill x downhill) / (uphill + downhill)

Here is a list of the things I’ve learned by stimping multiple greens every day:

  • The real greenspeed our members enjoy for daily play.
  • On our greens, rolling is vital. If we don’t roll, we will be 6–12” slower. Obviously rolling makes greens faster, this is not a revelation. However, I was amazed by just how much faster. It will take multiple days of rolling consecutively to reach the max speed for that day’s conditions. However, as soon as we skip a day of rolling, this effect is immediately lost. [Disclaimer: this is the case on our greens. I do not know if the effect exists on different greens of different construction and grass type.]
  • Extra rolling does not result in a sustained speed increase. Immediately after a second roll, the speed is higher, but 30 minutes later, the speed from one roll and the double roll speed are the same.
  • When all variables remain relatively similar, mowing and rolling each day results in a speed plateau. If the weather is the same and we mow and roll for five straight days, the speed each day, will be nearly identical beginning about day 2 or 3. If we want to increase the speed, a variable needs to change. Height of cut drop, increase in number of mows, etc.

Since I started stimping our greens every day, I cannot remember a complaint about greenspeed. They are consistent from green to green and they are consistent from day to day. It has also allowed us to dial in our practices to get the ideal speed for the conditions. We have also been able to gain true knowledge of how various practices impact greenspeed. I would even say our greens are faster, with less effort than they were before daily stimp measurements. We know the right practices to employ, or not, at the right times to get the very best from our surfaces.

If your stimpmeter keeps your door propped open and you are happy with it’s performance and the performance of your greens; keep it there. If you feel like there is room to improve the performance of your greens, maybe your golfers make one too many negative comments about green speed? Blow the dust of that aluminium stick, grab a tape measure and start measuring.

Husband, dad and Golf Course Supt | 👀 to help & be inspired by others, while also inspiring & learning from them | I ply my trade and hone my craft @Hazeltine