If you have the pleasure of watching the masters every year, you will undoubtedly have heard the commentators raving about how fast the greens are playing. Since the infamous ‘bikini waxed’ comment from Gary McCord, the comments are a little more measured but you will hear almost every day that ‘they are running at 12’ or whatever it might be. If you are wondering just what this means and just how they measure this, what you are really looking at is something called a stimpmeter. What is a stimpmeter and just how does it work?
Comparing Green Speed
Essentially what a stimpmeter does is give a number that allows course/players/spectators to compare how fast their greens are running. This is useful information if you are playing, but also if you are watching. I am sure a lot of us have been watching the best golfers in the world three or four putt and thought that we could probably do better. Actually, with my putting, I have literally never thought this, but you get my point!
when you realise just how fast these greens can run, you can see why that three footer down the hill can be so difficult. Seeing the ball trickle ten feet past as it grazes the edge makes m?e come out in a cold sweat!
What Exactly is the Stimpmeter?
This is where the stimpmeter comes into play. It is essentially a metal slope that is placed on the green. The ball runs down it and the distance it runs is then measured. I always find it slightly amusing that, with all the tech in golf from club design to statistical analysis of shots gained, one of the most common tools is something that any amateur handyman could put together in his shed in about five minutes!
Obviously, the devil is in the details, but there really isn’t too much to it. It has been around for nearly a century since its invention by Edward S. Stimpson before World War II. It is essentially a V shaped piece of metal that has two points marked on it, one 14 inches from the bottom and the other 30 inches from the bottom. The ball is place on the 30-inch point and the end of the slope is slowly raised. This causes the ball to roll down and the distance it rolls is measured, giving the famous number that is the stimp reading.
How Exactly is the Stimp Number Calculated?
As you could probably guess, there is a little bit more to it than this in order to get a truly reliable and comparable rating.
Firstly, this process is repeated three times and in order for the rating to be valid, the three readings should be within 8 inches of each other and an average taken. The stimpmeter is then moved and placed so that the bottom of the slope is at this average distance and the process is repeated in the other direction.
Three more readings are taken and they too should all be within eight inches, giving a total of 6 numbers for an average and the rating.
Problems with Stimp
There are a couple of issues with the Stimp as you might be able to see from this description. Firstly, it requires a flat section of green of at least ten to twelve feet, potentially more if you are looking a very fast green. This isn’t as common as you would think, especially on championship courses. This is the reason for the 14-inch starting point. This requires about half the distance of roll out and then end result is doubled to give the final number.
Secondly, even though the meter is a very simple piece of equipment, it does need an experienced hand to actually use it. For example, the angle of the slope is generally around twenty degrees and the speed in which it is raised should be fairly constant (and slow) from one reading to another.
There is also a tendency in modern golf to go for extremes. Given that we can measure speed, surely more speed is better? There is certainly marketing value in saying you have the fastest greens in the west, or whatever. Whether this is actually a good thing for the people playing the course is highly debatable.
It Isn’t all About Speed
Ultimately, green speed is just one aspect of a golf course, and perhaps not even the most important one even on the greens. Let’s take perhaps the most famous course in golf, St Andrews. St Andrews is famous for its greens. They are huge and have all sorts of troughs and valleys on them which make playing there and especially putting, a truly interesting golfing experience.
The stimp rating on the drier greens of 2022 was just over 10. This certainly isn’t slow, but isn’t the 12,13,14 or more of Augusta National either. Would St Andrews be a better course with 12 on the stimpmeter? Of course not, the question is ridiculous. It would change from a great golfing test into some sort of circus.
The stimpmeter is a useful and relatively simple tool that gives a comparative measure of green speed. Ultimately though, it is just one aspect of what goes into making a great golf course.