PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Golf Guru

May 26, 2008

Q: What do people mean when they talk about the speed of a green with a Stimpmeter or whatever it's called?

--Bernie Brungs / Florence, Ky.

A: Edward Stimpson, a banker by trade, was a fine player. He made the final 16 in the 1934 U.S. Amateur and won his state amateur title (Massachusetts) the following year. Legend has it that that summer, Stimpson attended the U.S. Open at Oakmont and watched Gene Sarazen putt right off one of its wickedly fast greens. Stimpson got interested in measuring green speeds and created a device to do it. He was way ahead of his time. It took the USGA four decades to show any interest, but finally, in 1978, six years before his death, a modified version of his prototype became the standard tool for measuring green speeds.

The Stimpmeter today is a 36-inch strip of aluminum with a groove running down the center. You lay it flat on the green, put a ball in a notch at one end, then raise that end until the ball rolls out of the notch, down the groove, and onto the green. The distance the ball rolls -- in feet -- is a measure of the speed of the green.

Like many great inventions, it has been misused. Too many pea-brained greens-committee types today think that the higher the Stimpmeter reading, the better. But anything above 10 is ludicrous -- unputtable, expensive to maintain and nothing to brag about. As The Golf Guru has written before, the pursuit of maximums instead of optimums is a sickness of modern life.

Guru update: My tirade (April) against those who believe that spitting is an acceptable accompaniment to a round of golf -- "those hawking, drooling, spattering wretches" -- attracted a large response. Two wrote in support of the un-fortunate habit. Joe Pratt invoked allergies, cold and sinus prob-lems, before informing The Golf Guru that he was "an idiot" who probably believes in global warming, too. (I do, as it happens; I'm also not a fan of pollution, wasting the earth's finite resources and relying on dodgy foreign countries for our energy needs -- but that's another story.) Peter Gallo defended spitting on the grounds of a "nasal drip that drives me crazy." Everyone else, however, voiced their disapproval, particularly when the guilty party is a certain Mr. Woods -- because of spitting and cussing, they said, Tiger is not the role model that he is made out to be. Lamented Robert Montague: "He's got it all -- I just wish he'd act like it!"

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