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Valhalla Golf Club

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Green Speeds at Home

By David Owen Photos by Richard Decker
February 23, 2015

Nearly every room in my house is too fast to host a PGA Tour event.

One of the greatest things about my house, which was built in 1790 and moved to its current location on the back of a truck 180 years later, is that it contains very few level surfaces. The room I used to use as my office has a carpeted floor that slopes from end to end and sags on the diagonal. When my work got boring, I could practice any kind of putt: right-breaking, left-breaking, uphill, downhill, side-hill, whatever. My living-room floor is less severe, but it's bigger and more undulating. The rug is an old Oriental that belonged to my grandparents, and if you move a couple of chairs you have a putt that might fool a tour pro: a bowl-shape double-breaker from the piano to the nearest leg of a pie-crust table that my wife and I got as a wedding present.

I've often wondered how the floors in my house compare with the greens on real golf courses. Recently, my club's superintendent lent me his Stimpmeter, the official USGA tool for measuring green speed. It's a three-foot-long extruded-aluminum bar, with a shallow, V-shape trough running down the center. You find a level putting surface a dozen feet across, place a ball in a notch near one end of the bar, then slowly lift that end until the ball begins to roll. You do that in both directions, and the speed of the green is the average run-out, in feet and inches. For normal golf courses nowadays, readings of 9 or 10 are considered fast, and greens at major tournaments are probably 12 or higher.

I'd always assumed that almost any ordinary residential rug or carpet would be slower than almost any real green, so I was amazed to find that nearly every room in my house is too fast to host a PGA Tour event. My living-room rug measured almost 15, and the carpet in our basement rec room—a super-cheap nylon level-loop pile, installed over concrete on a three-quarter-inch foam pad—was over 20. (I can't give you a precise reading for that one, because the balls, in both directions, rolled all the way to the wall.) Back in the 1990s, Paul Stankowski said he had practiced for the Masters by putting on the floor of his garage, but probably my living room, or his, would have been more realistic.

I took my Stimpmeter to Northeast Carpet and Flooring, in New Milford, Conn. The owner, Joe Welch, had recently returned from a golf trip to Florida, and when I told him I was looking for a household carpet that would putt realistically he took me down to the basement. He unrolled a long remnant of a lightweight cut-pile, in which the yarns were fairly long and the weave was fairly loose. The Stimpmeter reading on that one was only 5—which, believe it or not, is roughly what ordinary golf courses averaged as recently as the 1970s. Then we tried a similar but denser carpet, with a much shorter pile—the kind you might glue down on an office floor. That piece was 12 feet wide, and my test balls all rolled to the opposite edge, meaning that it was suitable for major-tournament practice, possibly, but too fast for normal play. "But you don't really want to be putting on this stuff," Welch said, "because it's not true, right?" Maybe not—although earlier that day I'd had extremely promising results in my son's old bedroom, on a nice dense Saxony with a little depth to it (about 9-6).

Welch suggested that I visit Paul Ramee, a customer of his, who owns Golf on the Green, an indoor teaching center a couple of miles down the road. During the regular season, Ramee is the director of golf at Bull's Bridge Golf Club, in South Kent, whose course was designed by Tom Fazio. Ramee's back room has a super-fancy synthetic-grass putting surface, with subtle breaks and six cups, installed by Pro Putt Systems. It's designed to roll at 10-6. I tested it and decided it was more like 11-6. "Foot traffic speeds it up," Ramee said, "and when that happens I can take it back down by vacuuming it."

The large front room, where Ramee gives full-swing lessons, is carpeted with less-expensive fake grass, manufactured by a floor-covering company called Beaulieu of America and installed by Welch. Ramee doesn't use it for putting, but I tested it anyway. It measured a little over 9—and it putted quite nicely, too, especially where people had been walking. "Wow," I said. "You could carpet a whole basement with this."

"I've thought about that," Ramee said. "But my wife would never let me."