Things we can change...

Health warning : Course set-up can kill your golf.

Set-up changes the original design

“Set-up” needs some words of definition before we look at its relevance to REAL golfers.

From the day it is first opened for play, a golf course evolves with each passing year. Grass grows, roughs grow, shrubs grow, trees grow, bunkers change in shape and depth, and even the contours of greens alter as top dressing is added.

In many climates, these changes are so slow that we don’t really notice them. But, over time, they can – and do – have a major influence on the original design of the hole.

Affects daily enjoyment

On a shorter time scale we note routine differences . Greens are mown, often daily, and pin placings ( hole locations ) are also changed frequently. As we shall see, both these things have a big effect on our daily enjoyment of the game, its cost and how long it takes to play.

So, we suggest that “set-up” covers a very wide range of issues on the course. REAL golfers need a good understanding of these, which TOP golfers do not : they often only see a course for a few days before heading for another venue. This conflict of interest over course set-up between TOP golf and REAL golf is the cause of so many of the game's problems.

Q. Where do we start, then?

A. At the end : on and around the greens, where so much of the game is played.

Let’s begin by looking at the performance of greens. How quick should they be? How true should they be? How firm or soft should they be?

Q. Can we choose?

A. Yes and no.

Never forget this is an outdoor game, so rain and wind will affect the surface before or during play. But, with sound greenkeeping practice – maintaining the correct grasses which work in your particular climate – we can aim at a range of speed, trueness and firmness readings which fit the bill on a daily basis.

Q. How do you know if you’re succeeding?

A. Because in the last decade, various tools and tests have been developed to measure these values.

Q. Like the Stimpmeter?

A. Well that’s an older tool, but it’s one of them. These days, the Greenstester and the Clegg Impact Soil Hammer can be used frequently and cheaply to keep track of all the right data.

Q. OK – so what numbers fit the bill for REAL golfers?

A. We could be here all day!

Let’s get firmness/softness out of the way first. Better golfers want firm greens, because such turf allows correctly-applied spin to check the ball. Higher handicap players want softer greens, where the pitchmark helps to control the ball.

Obviously we can’t have firm and soft greens at the same time – but in practice the only choice is to aim for firm greens. Soft greens may result from heavy rain or artificial irrigation – but if they stay soft all the time, they end up as bogs. In any part of the world.

Q. What about trueness? How do you judge that?

A. We think that a good surface is one on which a well-struck putt from 6 feet finds the hole 9 or 10 times out of 10 attempts. There is a simple test, the Holing Out Test,  ( ) which we use for this. And, we want to achieve that standard on a daily basis throughout the year  (or playing season, in countries where golf shuts down for winter).


Q. Can you keep that standard all the time?

A. Yes, but only if the correct grasses are being maintained. Those same grasses also keep firmness in the right range.

Q. And speed?

A. Probably the most serious problem facing courses worldwide today.

Q. What! Why?

A. Because the right grasses we need for trueness and firmness cannot stand the “mania for speed”, which usually means close mowing for long periods of time.

The good grasses die, and are replaced by the weed grass, Poa annua, or annual meadow grass. This grass costs far too much in resources ( manpower, machinery, materials ) in the futile battle to make it perform. And it won’t perform in winter, with effects on revenue – and further costs to players.

Q. So who chases speed?

A. Nearly always, the TOP players. Including, probably, the low handicap players at your own club! They see it on TV, and they’re often good enough to enjoy that challenge.

But REAL golfers don’t enjoy very quick greens. By that, we mean anything much above a 9 foot Stimp reading. And if those greens have above average undulations, speed makes scoring much more difficult, and pace of play becomes even slower. Quicker greens are perfectly acceptable for periods of a day or two, in important competitions, and they’ll happen anyway in dry spells. But don’t get the habit!

In short, chasing speed for TOP golfers spoils the challenge for REAL golfers, it makes our golf harder and more expensive, it shortens the playing season, and slows down play. We repeat, it is arguably the biggest problem facing courses around the world today.

OK. Good time to take a break!

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