Spotlight: The Stimpmeter

By Jeff Plotts, Director of Golf Course Maintenance at TPC Scottsdale

As in many trades, there are specific tools of the trade. Mechanics have wrenches, carpenters have hammers, and cooks have pots and pans. Golf course maintenance is no exception. We have many tools, other than mowers, that help us achieve turfgrass health and good consistent playing conditions. We would like to show you some of those tools of the trade over the next few months by high lighting a particular tool each month.

Our first tool spotlight is the Stimpmeter. This device is what is used to measure the speed of the putting greens to help achieve consistency from putting surface to putting surface. Designed by Edward Stimpson Sr. in 1935, the first Stimpmeter was made of wood. They are now made of an extruded aluminum. The Stimpmeter was first used in competition by the United States Golf Association (USGA) in the 1976 US Open at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Atlanta, Georgia. The Stimpmeter became available to golf course superintendents and golf facilities in 1978.

The meter is an angled track that releases a ball at a known velocity so the distance can be measured consistently from green to green. The device is 36 inches long and 1.75 inches wide with a 145-degree V-shaped groove extending the length of the meter. The end of the meter is tapered on the underside to reduce ball bounce as the ball is released onto the putting surface. The ball is held in place by a notch 30 inches from the end of the meter. The ball is released by gravity as the Stimpmeter is slowly raised to an angle of 20 degrees at a repeatable rate of six feet per second.

The speed of the putting green is determined by the distance the ball rolls from the meter. Generally, we try to find a flat spot on the green and take the average of three different balls rolled in the same direction. Then from the opposing side, we will measure the distance of three balls and average the six measurements to determine the speed in feet. If the greens speed is 10.6, the average distance the ball rolls for the Stimpmeter is 10 feet 6 inches.

The Stimpmeter is a tool that helps us determine how uniform the greens are over the entire course. This is not a tool to see how fast we can make the greens. We strive to achieve a variability of ball speed no greater than 6 inches from one putting green to the next. Agronomic management practices can affect the ball speed, as well as the environment in which the green sits. Therefore, we can adjust height of cut, frequency of cut, water and even fertility to maintain consistency throughout. The USGA has established a table to rate green speed: slow greens – 6.5 feet, medium greens – 8.5 feet, and fast greens – 10.5 feet.
Most golfers like faster greens because they are generally truer and more consistent. Each year during the Waste Management Phoenix Open our greens are between 11.5 to 12 feet for the tournament. We must take a full approach look at determining the green speed for our courses at TPC Scottsdale. Things that we need to consider are the health of the greens, time of the year, the skill set of the players and the agronomic practices that need to be performed. It is a balance of plant health and playability when it comes to the speed of putting surfaces. For daily play at TPC Scottsdale, we try to achieve 10 to 10.5 feet. The Stimpmeter is a valuable tool in addition to sound agronomic practices in maintaining true, smooth and consistent putting greens.