At the United States Golf Association’s annual meeting last month, someone asked USGA Executive Director Mike Davis what the association can do to lower green speeds at golf courses, since fast greens are a contributing factor in slow play and can cause a lot of angst for many golfers.
Davis acknowledged the problem, saying, “There’s this notion that fast equals good.”
There’s that notion because fast equals thrilling, among other things. Golfers, from high to low handicaps, want fast greens. The low-handicappers want them because they desire the same challenge that pro golfers face. The high-handicappers want them because they want to be like the low handicaps, even with their four putts and frustration.
Obviously, green speed is more of an issue at private clubs, but public courses aren’t exempt, especially considering all the former private club members who quit their memberships and are now playing the public circuit. And green speed can pose headaches for golf course superintendents as well.
Davis noted that some courses, particularly resorts, want to reduce green speed because it directly impacts pace of play. These courses are losing rounds and revenue because too many golfers are spending too much time putting.
Davis also said the USGA needs to send a message “to get grass heights back to a reasonable level” and that going from green speeds that were 11 or 12 on the Stimpmeter back down to 9 or 10 is a good thing for the game, including agronomically. There’s probably not a superintendent in the solar system who would disagree with Davis, considering that fast greens can mean even faster problems for them, such as the quick onset of disease because the greens have been taken to the brink on a hot, humid day to appease the members/guests.
But how is the USGA going to do this? How is it going to send a message to golfers that putting greens need to be mowed higher?
Herein lies part of the problem. The USGA hosts a tournament – it’s called the U.S. Open – that tends to glorify fast greens like old metal-heads do Led Zeppelin. In fact, the tournament has made a name for itself with its hurried greens, some up to 13 or 14 feet.
The fast greens at U.S. Opens over the years have created enough stir to spawn an HBO miniseries. Golfers complain, and sports writers scribble that the USGA is out to show the world’s best players who’s boss. Golf course maintenance crews at host U.S. Open courses get in on the action, too. They snicker when shots don’t hold and giggle when balls roll past cups.
I know, I know … the USGA will say the U.S. Open greens are for pros only, and that Joe Golfer has as much business putting on such speeds as he does driving his Toyota Camry in the Daytona 500. Sorry, but a lot of Joe Golfers aren’t going to go for that. They may be convinced that they’re better off not driving from the tips, but you’re not going to take away their fast greens.
The bottom line is that Americans, in general, have an insatiable appetite for speed – from ordering, receiving and consuming a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin in 120 seconds, to going 85 in a 75 mph zone, to putting on greens running at 12 feet.
The USGA has contributed to this need for speed through the U.S. Open. Want to lower the green speeds for Joe Golfer? Then start by lowering them at the U.S. Open.
Featured photo: The fast greens at U.S. Opens over the years have created enough stir to spawn an HBO miniseries. PHOTO BY SJOEMAN/SIGNATURE/ISTOCK