Confirmed: Faster greens equal slower round times

Faster Green Times on Golf Course

Faster greens seem to be all the rage in the contemporary golf game. In an effort to bring players as close to the pro experience as possible, courses in a lot of places have begun upgrading their respective haunts to appeal to a more demanding consumer. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had marveling at how close major-hosting courses bring their fairways and greens to near-fatal levels of drought to speed everything up to the highest level possible.

You can see the browns peeking through the greens on TV clear as day. But, in an effort to mimic some of these pro-level courses, some consumer-facing clubs have actually set themselves up for slower playing times, more frustrated players, slower round times and consequently, lower revenues.

Yes, it really is that simple: faster greens can very easily = less money for you and your club.

Science of the Green out of the University of Minnesota looked at this very problem and came to a pretty unassailable conclusion:

“An increase of one foot in Stimpmeter reading resulted in an increase of 6.39 seconds per green per player.  This one foot increase equates to an increase in total round time of a foursome of 7.67 minutes. In some instances, the increase in time spent per player per green resulted in an increase of as much as 30 minutes per round for a one foot increase in green speed (25 seconds per player per green). Overall, playing experience ratings decreased as green speeds increased.”

The report is careful to note the relationship between play dissatisfaction and increased green speeds was lower than they had anticipated, but it was still statistically significant. So why is this so important? The study’s abstract lays out the economic case affecting superintendents and courses:

“Slow pace of play and long round times are often cited as deterrents for potential participants and create inefficiencies in the throughput of a golf course, therefore not maximizing the facility’s revenue potential.”

As I mentioned earlier, it seems more and more facility managers are ratcheting up the course speeds, and green speeds in particular, but may be servicing the wrong master, so to speak:

“Golf facility managers are pressured to increase green speeds, but these faster greens can result in decreased turfgrass health, higher maintenance costs, decreased player enjoyment, and potentially longer round times”.

Geoff Shackelford actually disagrees with the report out of the U of M; the study claims the results show a lesser impact than anticipated, and as such, increased green speeds might not be affecting play as much as the scientists thought. But Shackelford says the exact opposite is true:

“Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I would disagree that the number is insignificant… On these findings of one foot of speed increase, greens Stimping 9 for a foursome would take 76 seconds less to play a hole than a group dealing with 12 on the Stimpmeter. Over the course of 18 holes that adds up to over 20 minutes. Throw in the added cost, stress and architectural impact, all of which do not improve the game, and the chase for speed continues to make little sense.”

Far be it from us to tell superintendents and facility managers how to run their courses; there are certainly membership bases who want a more challenging experience and pay for just that. In situations like that, it makes sense to keep speeds higher. But, chasing speed for speed’s sake might be more misguided than we once thought. The more you slow play time down, the less total money you can be making. At a certain point, the more challenging the play experience, the more frustrating it will be to the majority of golfers, and the less likely they are to come back.

None of these conclusions exist in a vacuum, context and course specifics should weigh into every course’s speed choices. But, perhaps faster isn’t always better.