Takes on Industry Happenings

The putting surfaces at world-famous courses of Scotland, such as Machrihanish Golf Club and The Machrie Golf Links, have plenty of undulations and/or severe slopes, a design style from an era gone by – way by.

That means that green speeds more than 9.5 or 10 on the Stimpmeter render putting on many of the holes ridiculous and eliminate all but a scant number of hole locations.

Golfers from this side of the Atlantic invariably label greens of that speed as “slow,” “very slow” or “a joke.” Yet that pace on those layouts is appropriate.

The combination of severe undulations and slopes plus moderate green speeds adds up to a result I completely forgot about, the hanging putt.

In the modern age of course maintenance, even at most of the low-budget affordable, daily-fee layouts, green speeds are such that golf balls don’t stop on an incline, they release to a level area.

In the days of my youth (I’m 50), balls held up on slopes, swales and knobs. Then, I, with my 1950s-era Top-Flite clubs and golf balls that were so dense you could break them (I still have a “two-piece” ball I created with a persimmon driver), played the game putting on surfaces that rolled, I’m guessing, no more than 7 feet on the Stimpmeter.

On the greens, as with the fairways, we learned to adjust our weight, posture and stance to the angle, whether it was uphill, side hill, downhill, or invariably a combination of those.

Golf courses could have gone in two directions as green speeds increased over the intervening years: A) realize that smooth is more important than fast and leave the contouring the way the architects designed, or B) chase a number and eliminate contouring. Since the answer chosen was B, with the eradication of mounds, the skill and necessity to play them vanished. Sometimes the features themselves have been wiped away.

On American courses where the bold movements remain, green speeds render them all but out of play since golf balls, like water, seek the lowest point.

Golf course architect Steve Smyers, who is also the United States Golf Association’s treasurer, opined a few years back to me and a friend that the U.S. Open revealed the best player. The U.S. Open courses made golfers “hit draws off of fade lies and fades off of draw lies,” he said.

Now that the only way to defend the long-flying golf ball is to narrow fairways to back-alley width and, unfortunately, Smyers description no longer holds true.

At the time, though, his assessment also accurately described the best putters. For more than a century, dealing with a funky lie on a green, one foot on the flat and one on a slope, for instance, was part of the game.

This summer, my golf was played exclusively on courses where those situations still arise, where adjusting to the topography wasn’t just in the fairways. Downhill putts on severe slopes and off of plateaus required more skill than barely tapping the ball with putter toe and hoping.

You know what? It was fun. It was fun at the 11th of Machrihanish Dunes, the sixth at Carradale Golf Club, the second at Machrihanish Golf Club, the seventh at Dunaverty Golf Club and the fourth at The Machrie.

The players who adapted to unusual putting stances while I caddied for them also loved it. Maybe they, like me, found a sense of accomplishment because the goal is achieved more through skill and less through luck.

It took me a while to become moderately adept at it. There were times I just couldn’t get comfortable or figure out how fast a putt needed to be moving when it took a downward turn. At the same time, because I was playing in the gusts of southwestern Scotland, I was learning how to flight the ball lower to keep the wind from having an impact on my shot, and how to play irons that landed and released, not checked up, so as to bound along firm fairways and onto greens. I’m convinced that after a dozen more rounds with Keith Martin of Mach Dunes and Simon Freeman of the Machrie, I might start to figure it out, merely by watching them repeatedly and deftly pull off the necessary shots.

The chase to acquire those skills is over for now. I’m back in Connecticut. The turf here is soft. The greens are flat.