Hi Ho, Hi Ho – It’s off to Putt I Go

By: JJ Gowland

In April 2006, when TPC Sawgrass was shut down following the Players Championship for a complete makeover, I felt sorry for the members. But with so many golf courses in North America undergoing greens renovations and open for play, one wonders how regular members will maintain muscle-memory putting skills on a variety of greens and produce a score worth bragging about.

Most golfers prefer that all the greens on a course have the same Stimpmeter reading. We’d like to warm up on a practice green with the same exact speed as the 18 greens on the course. We don’t want to guess how hard to roll the ball on each and every surface. Playing 18 greens with the same Stimp reading usually helps the score. (Having reliable muscle memory helps, too.)

Putting on a green with a Stimpmeter of 15 is quite different than putting on a green with a read-out of 9, and vastly different than that of one rated at 5. The higher the number, the faster the green. A lower number means hitting the ball harder to go the Stimp-measured distance. On a green with a high reading, just fanning the putter head in the vicinity of the ball will start the ball rolling faster than cars peeling out at the start of a NASCAR race.

At my course last September, five weeks before a greens-renovation project began, eight temporary greens were cut, rolled, and manicured. Our superintendent, Mark Prieur, and his team did a magnificent job of preparing the temporary greens prior to actual play. Last fall and this spring, we putted on eight temporary greens and some of us preferred them to the 10 old and bumpy poa annua putting surfaces.

Members have been enthusiastic. They congratulated the owners for undertaking the expense and effort of renovating the greens. The 10 former greens will be redone starting this fall. In the meantime, we’ll be negotiating a variety of putting surfaces.

As we played the temporary greens this spring, we eyed the progress of the new surfaces. We’d approach the new greens and stop at their new bluegrass fringes, admiring the product but knowing these doors were locked.

After being idle through a northern winter, every swing of my game is a surprise and I feel lucky when I actually hit the ball. For my first nine holes, which involved playing four temp greens and five originals, I only had 12 putts. I’d mastered two different green types and it was fun!

On the third Tuesday in May, the four new greens debuted. Now we play 10 old poa annua greens, four temporaries, and four new – and reputably faster – bentgrass greens.

When I asked Mark what he thought was the most difficult aspect of maintaining such a variety of putting surfaces, he said, “Keeping the mechanic happy. The mechanic had to change the cutting levels on the mowers so many times he’s ready to toss wrenches.” Different turf, growth cycles and usage levels require a variety of cutting heights.

“Then it became a problem of making sure that each greens crew member had the right mower with the right cutting height and that he or she went to the correct greens. One wrong mower on the wrong green can set back the opening of a new green by a couple of weeks.” Mark added, “It’s a lot like coaching a football squad over 154 acres.”

While Mark is ducking tossed wrenches, I’m trying to fathom just how I’ll putt on three different types of greens. In theory, the temporaries will have fuzzy bumps and require a heavier hit; an old green will need a mid-level swing weight; and the brand-new bent surfaces should require just a fanning with the putter.

At the Masters this year, Phil carried two drivers in his bag. Even though his regular driver had the feature of removable screws to change the clubhead weighting, he couldn’t adjust the club during a round as he’d risk disqualification.

There’s also available a putter with interchangeable weighting nuts and bolts. But if I’m not allowed to change the club, I’d need to play with three different putters.

Will we be allowed to carry our regular 13 clubs, plus three putters? (I’ll have a whole new set of excuses about my game; i.e., “I forgot which putter to use.”)

Will another golfer say, “I don’t want to use three different putters so can I carry 16 clubs, but only two putters and a fan?”

Will the rules committee make an exception about the total number of clubs we’re allowed to carry on our course? Of course that won’t happen. We’ll need to use one putter and three powerfully different strokes (and hopefully not en route to three putts a green).

Yesterday, during my first outing on the new greens, I anticipated having fun while remembering I had only 12 putts in my first nine-hole round.

However, when I played the four new greens, another aspect cropped up that I hadn’t calculated in my three-greens putting theories. I’ve played this course for more than 20 years and know the contours of the greens as well as I know the location of the buttons on my TV remote control. Yesterday, I discovered that the new greens have slightly different contours! I had an awful lot of putting fun, with an emphasis on awful.

My excuse? Too much faith on old memory, and not enough execution of the new theories.

This fall, the process of redoing our 10 old greens will start and we’ll have some temporaries, some old greens and eight new putting surfaces. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have 18 new greens about the same time the TPC at Sawgrass reopens!

Sawgrass members won’t have to endure the multiple mental dilemmas of remembering how hard to hit a putt on which green with what grass, speed, and new contours.

Imagine all the fun they’ll be missing.

Jill J. Gowland has a BA in psychology from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and worked as a psychiatric clinician for five years. Following that she did a 10-year stint in sales and then worked as a marketing manager in the high-tech software and the security/access-control industries.

Before attending university, J.J. served tables in a golf course coffee shop and has been an avid golfer for more than three decades. Jill has been associated with the golf business as a director and shareholder of a privately owned golf course for more than 20 years. Jill studied comedy at Second City, Toronto, has written and directed stage plays, taught improv comedy, is a published poet. She has blogs on www.SandbaggersAnonymous.blogspot.com, has written for Ontario Golf Magazine, and is a golf novelist. Jill lives with a fluctuating handicap in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Her latest book, “Confessions of a Sandbagger,” (ISBN 1-4137-5527-4), a trade paperback, was released in December 2004 and is available world-wide and directly from the author. For ordering information, visit www.publishedauthors.net/jjgowland. Also, see Bob Spiwak’s review of “Confessions of a Sandbagger” at http://www.cybergolf.com/bookreview/index.asp?newsID=3903.