Road Hole Shorts

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COMMENTARY: Are you Green Literate?

COMMENTARY: Are you Green Literate?

By Mary Armstrong, Golf Architect

Posted: 06/11/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT – Published by the Las Cruces Sun-news


The primary objective of the golf architect and contractor is to create a green surface that has the structure and components to promote the maintenance of healthy turf. Essentially, green design is first and foremost about water management. The golf course superintendent that can control water on his greens has a good first step toward maintaining the best possible surfaces. The contours also must collect and funnel surface water off the green, away from bunkers and out of play. So water movement away from the green surface provides the basis for the creative contouring that makes each green a unique challenge to approach play and putting. The more places the architect can shed water off the green, the better. You should be aware of these factors when reading greens.

Sometimes in the heat of competition we forget that greens are living organisms. They aren’t some sort of carpet; and to consider them so is only detrimental to your own game. In Dave Pelz book, “Putt Like the Pros”, he describes an experiment using a putting machine to simulate 1800 perfectly stroked 12-foot putts on greens at three different golf courses. What he found might surprise you. The three courses he chose might be typified as average maintenance budget with heavy play (A), high maintenance budget and average play (B), and very high maintenance budget with light play (C). The results were only 48 percent of the putts went in on course A, 54 percent on course B, and 84 percent on Course C. Clearly, foot traffic and maintenance budget does have an effect on putting. Furthermore, in his experimentation Dave found that there are putts that “can’t be made” – just as there are putts that “can’t be missed”. Simply put, a putt along a the top of a very subtle ridge might wander off line no matter where you hit it. Likewise, a ball hit down a slight valley will go back on line regardless of where it’s hit. What’s more, I believe that as putting green heights go lower, putts are more likely to be knocked off line by subtle imperfections. This means that faster greens may be LESS true than slower greens.

So, no matter how good you stroke your putt, greens don’t provide the perfect surface and the ball may not find the hole. The moral of the story – “don’t beat yourself up when you miss a putt.”If you feel uncertain about reading greens, try these tips:• Observe the green as you are approaching it — say from 60 yards or so. From this distance, you should be able to see the direction the land is sloping where the green is placed. From this distance you can almost always get a good feel for the general pitch of the green. This is because architects generally avoid allowing stormwater to flow off the green against the prevailing slope. Also, earthmoving is minimized and it will appear more “natural” if the green generally pitches with the slope of the land. If there are bunkers around the green, the architect must avoid having water runoff into the bunkers because it will cause sand erosion and maintenance headaches. Therefore, the area between the bunker and the green surface will most often be a gentle mound or ridge and putts to holes near the green edges will ordinarily break away from bunkers. Very old or poorly built golf courses may be the exception to this rule.• As you approach the green look for the lowest point — the location at the edge of the green where water will flow off the green. As I mentioned before, there may be more than one location, so you may want to choose the spot that most influences the track of your putt. From this position it is usually easiest to see the arrangement of the contours and their severity.• If you are carrying your clubs try to walk across the green and look at the line from behind the hole. After dropping your clubs off at the edge, analyze the break from behind your ball. All the information you have gathered should be computing in your brain and by now you should be getting something of a sense for how much break and whether the putt is uphill or downhill.• There are sometimes “modifiers” to judging break, but they are only that. If you can predict the direction water flows, then most of the time you’ll have all the information you need. Among others, modifiers are things like “A” Mountain, Picacho Peak and other major land features that influence the larger landscape. When I say influence, I don’t mean anything mystical or magical.• Have you ever read your putt, become committed to your line and then have an element of doubt in your mind? Your feet may be talking to you! It is a fact that we sense slope in our feet. Sometimes just standing over your putt will give you feedback on how the green slopes at that location. Depending upon how consistently the green slopes, this may be helpful, or a complete misread. Although I’ve never tried it, walking along (not in) your expected line may give you another “sense” to factor in.As with everything in golf, it takes practice. If you are fortunate to have a putting green with slopes and turf that reflect what you will see on the course, you can quickly learn to read your course’s greens. One last tip — I firmly believe that walking versus riding a cart helps me read greens.Moving from course to course can be challenging. The Evian Masters GC in ƒvian-les-Bains, France is known to have among the most difficult greens to read. This is primarily because of its mountainside setting. Here in Las Cruces, the greens at Picacho Hills and NMSU are most difficult to read because of our mountain setting. The good news is — if you can learn to read those greens, you can learn to read almost any!A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. 


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