I have recently been asked a number of questions regarding what the stimp meter is and how it is used. Well, let me share some of the "mystique" about this tool that the USGA uses to measure green speeds.
In 1935, successful amateur golfer Edward Stimpson developed the first version of what would later become known as the stimpmeter. Stimpson's device, basically a straight aluminum rod nearly one yard on length with a "v"-groove running its entire length, created a uniform way to roll a golf ball onto a putting surface at just about the same speed every time. Thus, the further a ball rolled from the end of the device, the faster the speed of the green. A desirable speed for a green measures anywhere from 7 to 12 feet, with championship speeds on the higher end of the scale.
The key to the device is releasing the golf ball at nearly the same height every time. This will ensure that the speed of the ball leaving the Stimpmeter is consistent. To do this, a small notch was added onto one end of the device. By placing the ball in the notch and slowly raising the end closest to the ball, the ball will release at approximately the same angle to the putting surface, i.e. height above the green, every time.
This measurement is performed on flat areas of putting greens. First three balls are rolled in any direction and the average is measured. Then you roll the balls back to your last starting point, measure the distances again and average them. You will then roll the balls perpendicular to you previous two direction and in the same fashion. After you have the average for all 4 directions (12 balls rolled) you will add up the four averages and divide by four to get yet another average, which is then your Stimpmeter measurement.
The Stimpmeter reading has no true useful value to it unless you have a dial indicator implanted into your chest that allows you to change your putting ability with the turn of a dial. The USGA and golf superintendents alike use the Stimpmeter readings as a way to maximize consistency. Our attempt to ensure that the first and 18th greens and each green in between all roll about the same speed. Each golf course should determine what it's "ideal" greens speed or Stimpmeter reading should be based upon budgets, customer expectation, green undulations, environmental factors, and health of the turf. It can often times cost more to maintain quick greens as this means a lower height of cut (well below 1/8th of an inch) although "rolling" greens can produce quick green speeds while increasing height of cut and improving plant health.
If your customers are not used to playing quick greens or if you have severe undulations in your greens your average pace of play on the course may increase, thus decreasing satisfaction. No two golf courses are the same in length or layout. And each of them has a different climate, soil structure, irrigation quality and construction, turf types, plant needs, pests, etc. Some courses even have multiple micro-climates and construction methods on the same 18-holes!
That being said I don't know how often I hear a golfer state that the greens are slow or "Our greens roll about a 12!" These statements are usually followed by another golf stating that the greens are too fast or "Our greens roll 14!" (I feel for the superintendent managing this type of course) My question to golfers asking me about green speeds is typically, "Did the greens roll true?" or "Was the 4th green slower than the 16th?" As long as the greens are consistent from one to the next and they roll "true" then we should all be able to figure them out by say our 2nd or third green, right? Especially since our mechanics and skills are so precise.
I hope that this sheds some light on the Stimpmeter. The next time you are out playing don't worry about if the greens are rolling a 13.5 like the commentators claim about the greens at the prior weekend PGA Tour event. (Often times those statements are not always correct or verified which only perpetuates this curiosity about green speeds) Try to adjust your putting swing to the speed of the practice green and trust yourself on the first few holes. The plight of many superintendents across the Eastern half of our Country at the direction of Green Chairmen or Board of Directors to increase green speeds is proving detrimental when combined with this summers' heat and humidity levels as indicated by the number of courses closing due to turf loss on greens. There is a saying that "speed kills" and this is definitely true in the case of putting green maintenance.