Charles Schwab Challenge

Colonial Country Club



Ask an architect

Many golfers like fast greens, but do they ruin good architecture?

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The third hole at Pinehurst No. 2, a Donald Ross design, doesn't need to be overly fast to be fun and challenging.

Stephen Denton

Architect Brian Schneider, a longtime associate of Tom Doak and partner at Renaissance Golf Design, has renovated clubs like Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey (ranked No. 170 on America’s 100 Greatest Courses), Tamarack Country Club in Connecticut, Llanerch Country Club in Pennsylvania and is the co-designer (with Blake Conant) of Old Barnwell in South Carolina.

Golf Digest: Brian, golfers always want the greens on their course to be faster. In fact, the speed of greens can become a point of pride for many clubs and is often how people judge quality: The faster the greens, the better the course. Are ultra-fast greens important to good architecture, or do they come with a cost? What do you say to clients, committees and club members who ask for fast greens?

Schneider: For me a better question is, why do you want fast greens? That’s a harder question for people to answer. I have yet to have someone explain to me why extreme green speeds make the game more interesting or fun.

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A worker uses a stimpmeter to measure the speed of the green.

Darren Carroll

I happen to think fast greens make the game slower and less interesting. For instance, if a green is tilted or sloped pretty hard from right to left at 3 percent or more, you’re going to want to try to hit into it from the left to use that slope to hold up your approach shot, and you’re going to not miss it to the right because you won’t be able to stop your ball going down the slope on the recovery.

If you flatten that green to make it putt faster, your position in the fairway becomes less important, and your miss around the green becomes less important because the recovery is much simpler. People forget that part—that softening greens in the name of speed has impacts beyond putting.

Good players love fast greens because the faster the greens, the fewer hole locations available. You can’t cut holes on certain part of greens when there’s too much speed, so the hole locations are confined to the flatter parts, meaning it’s easier for them to make 12-footers, and missing greens on the wrong side isn’t as punishing. Making the greens faster actually makes scoring easier for good players.

However, reducing pinnable areas makes holes less interesting. It gets especially problematic when older clubs get to the point where they must reshape or regrade their original Donald Ross or William Flynn greens to support higher green speeds. To me that’s tragic when you’re losing something of historic value.

Why then do so many golfers want fast greens?

It is very much ego driven, for members and superintendents. The Stimpmeter plays into it. For most golfers, turf conditions are the main factor that determine where they want to play, and high green speeds play into that.

I work with a bunch of great superintendents who are rational about it, but sometimes they can’t help themselves. They hear about green speeds when their members play at another club, or they want the greens really fast for member-guest tournaments so that the members can boast. They’re also good at their jobs, and it’s not difficult for them to attain high speeds.

A great set of greens don’t have to be fast to be great or interesting or fun. You can have a flattish, fast set of greens that aren’t particularly interesting or varied, or you can have a slightly slower and more interesting and varied set, green to green. I’d rather have an interesting set of greens, even if they’re a little slower than the guys down the street. In general, I tend to push for firmness. That’s what really makes for interesting golf. Firm and smooth should be the goal.

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