Q. Why Do Greens Slope Back to Front?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

The reason is twofold, as a green sloping gently towards golfers helps their approach shot "hold" the green, and it makes the green visible.

For average players, airborne and straight constitutes a good shot, but they just don't get enough backspin to "hold the green" and avoid frustration. It's one situation where nearly all golfers say, "Check please."

Most of us also like to see the green on an approach, to commit to the shot and plan strategy. Also, the visual composition of the hole is usually better when the green is visible at the end of the hole. For vision, the back of the green simply must be higher than the front - a hole has to play dramatically downhill for a level green to be visible.

There is no "ideal" upslope to use. On flatter ground, it usually ranges from:

The 1.5 percent minimum required for good drainage;
3 percent maximum practical slope to maintain fair slopes at today's green speeds.

Flatter slopes on the front half of the green (under 2 percent) reduce ball-mark damage, where most shots strike. Two- to 3- percent slopes on rear green areas make the green more visible, as rear portions of many greens tend to visually "disappear" behind even small ridges and flanking bunkers. Also, fewer golfers "go past" rear pin locations, causing steep downhill putts, compared to the front, where a "too-steep" slope can cause poor putts to roll off the front of the green. Of course, that should vary from green to green.

Years ago I measured some greens that golfers complained "didn't hold." Greens with at least 1.25 percent uphill slope held well, while flatter greens did not. In theory, shots from longer distances, in downwind or uphill conditions, or shots coming from downhill lies, have less backspin and might need slightly more help in stopping, so I often design slightly steeper back-to-front slopes where one or more spin-reducing factors exist.

However, variety is good - not all greens need to hold equally well, and having "local knowledge" and a variety of subtly different approach shots makes golf more fun. In the days before club standardization, "Golden Age" architects fully expected long-iron approach shots to play with roll out, and provided less front-to-back pitch, and short-iron approaches to have "more check." They designed steeper back-to-front slopes to create a different shot for those.

Vision considerations can control basic slope; if an approach shot is gently uphill, a steeper green - up to 3 percent maximum slope - may make the difference in attaining vision. On steeper uphill approaches, sometimes, a "false front" or raised back will also be required for golfers to see at least a portion of the green. Most uphill approaches require a fairway approach, with green hazards well off to the side for vision. These greens are good candidates for flanking bunkers left and right to mark the desired line of play on what would otherwise be a blind green.

Jeffrey D. Brauer began his career as an apprentice in the Chicago area in 1977. His first project was Kemper Lakes, which shortly after hosted the 1989 PGA Championship. He formed GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, in 1984. In the last 29 years he has designed and consulted on a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from partial renovations to international resorts. His recent work includes teaming with the design team of Pascuzzo and Pate on a remodel of the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in California, and renovations at Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen, Minn., and Mesquite Municipal Golf Course in Mesquite, Texas.

He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981, serving as President during its 50th Anniversary year in 1995-96. Jeff still studies the classic works - both old and new, and has played more than 75 of the best courses in the world.

Jeff gives many presentations and is a regular architecture columnist for many publications and websites, including Golf Course Industry and Cybergolf.com. He has also been a strong advocate for the "Tee it Forward" campaign and strives to make his courses fit the description of "fun to play every day."

Jeff's work has been spotlighted in most of the world's major golf magazines. Golf World ranked him as one of the top-20 golf course architects and Golf Inc. ranked him as the world's fourth-best value in golf architecture in 2010. Jeff's portfolio and reputation keep him at the forefront of desired designers for new courses, reconstruction and renovation projects. For more about Jeff, visit http://www.jeffreydbrauer.com/sites/courses/layout.asp?id=859&page=48451.