The Greenstester

The following is an article about the ‘Greenstester’ by Malcolm Peake, author of two STRI- published books on golf course maintenance, supporter of the Jim Arthur school of natural greenkeeping and past Green Chairman at Temple GC. He is also a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel.

 

“The ‘Greenstester’ is a new and affordable tool which is supported by The R&A and used for assessing objectively the reliability of putting surfaces.  

 

THE HISTORY OF THE ‘GREENSTESTER’ 

nick and eddie park, lindrick golf club,

Nick Park with father Eddie, both ex-Green Chairmen at Lindrick

The idea came about because Nick Park, a long term member of The R&A Golf Course Committee, felt there was a need for an affordable tool to objectively measure the trueness of golf greens (later defined as reliability). It would give course managers the performance facts in pursuing long-term policies to improve greens and resist the short-term pressure from golf club memberships making subjective judgements and comments. 

When golfers stand over a putt, if they stroke it on the right line and at the right pace they expect to have every chance of holing out. The consistency of the surface is fundamental to this happening and so a ‘Holing Out Test’ was needed. 

In his search for an affordable tool, Nick remembered, from his research for some brilliant articles he published on the history of the ball in the 1980s, tests conducted by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey on the golf ball’s centre of gravity on a billiard table, back in 1908. These experiments revealed the inconsistent centres of gravity of the new rubber-cored balls. Sideways deviation of as much as 2ft along the line of an 8 ft putt was not uncommon! The tests were carried out on a full-size billiard table and showed that a ball with a true centre of gravity would consistently hold its line on an 8 foot putt. The surface was, of course very smooth and true, and in these experiments it was the ball that was the key variable. Now, with the use of balls with a guaranteed true centre of gravity, Nick wanted to observe how true the surfaces of golf greens might be. 

Nick started by experimenting with a simple test using a Stimpmeter to assess the trueness of greens at Waterville, Ireland. Nevertheless, using high-speed photography it soon became apparent that stimpmeters did not present the ball smoothly to the putting surface and a noticeable bounce occurred on contact with the green, thereby giving lack of consistency to the roll of the ball. 

Fintan brennan, greenstester, portmarnock hotel and links

Fintan Brennan

He then started trialling a Pelzmeter and it was fascinating to watch the ball travelling towards the hole. With this device, it was noticeable that as the ball decelerated definite movement occurred if the putting surface was unreliable. After some time Nick decided that the Pelzmeter was not suitable, as the ball-release could not be adjusted for different length putts, and it was too expensive. 

Needing a new affordable tool which was fit for purpose, Nick approached Fintan Brennan Links Superintendant at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links. Fintan, a 4-handicap golfer and a metal worker in a previous life, immediately grasped the potential of the ‘Holing Out test’. With the help of his brother Ray, a basic ramp with the golf ball released by hand was devised. 

TRIALING THE ‘GREENSTESTER’  

holing out test, randa

R&A’s Holing Out Test

The trials on the exceptionally true fescue-dominant greens of Waterville and Portmarnock Hotel and Links gave excellent results but we felt the ramp needed to be tested on a wider variety of playing surfaces. It was agreed that I should use my home course of Temple and I was soon invited to use other local courses such as Beaconsfield, Bearwood Lakes, The Berkshire, Hennerton, Maidenhead, Stoke Park and Swinley Forest, where Course Managers were fascinated to watch and have some involvement in the tests. 

Nick and Fintan were testing in Ireland on links courses dominated by fescue grasses, while I was testing on downland, heathland and parkland courses with an array of fescue, bent dominant or nearly pure annual meadow grass (Poa annua) greens. With some of the courses having push-up style greens over 100 years old, and others using a modern USGA-type specification, we felt that most golf greens in northern Europe would be covered. 

malcolm peake, ian morrison, berkshire golf club

Malcolm Peake & Ian Morrison at The Berkshire

For nearly 18 months I tested with Martin Gunn, Course Manager at Temple, the reliability of the greens and green-speed, following The R&A recommended procedure of selecting a poor, an average, and good green. The good green we used was the 2nd, located in an excellent environment with a high percentage of fescue, and some bent and a little Poa. The average green used was the 4th, which is more sheltered and has a dominant bent sward with some Poa. Finally we chose the poor 5th green which has very poor air circulation and little sunlight in winter; this is a green in transition which was formerly 100% Poa but is now improving to a sward of approximately 50/50 Poa and bent. 

 

Recently Dr David Greenshields Research and Development Manager at Barenbrug Seeds, wrote an article describing the 4 year independent trials undertaken by the Sports Turf Research Institute which states that: “They strongly indicate that the preferred grass composition for golf greens under year-round play in the UK and Ireland is a combination of fescue and bent. This combination provides the optimum playing surface, outperforming other seed mixtures in terms of playability,visual merit, and with significant cost savings.”  This interestingly endorses the anecdotal evidence collected using the Greenstester. The original article can be found in the January issue  of Golf Course Architects magazine

PERFORMANCE CONCLUSIONS 

malcolm peake, high post goilf club

Malcolm Peake testing at High Post

Over the trial period we collected an immense amount of data and it became clear that the dominant fescue/bent greens provided the most reliable putting surface for year round golf. 

On most occasions the test on the 2nd good green was 10/10 at 6ft and often similar at 9ft. 

The Poa dominant green was the least reliable with readings from 6/10 in winter to 9/10 in summer. In April, with variable sward growth and seeding Poa, the green speed varied by as much as 12” over 6 ft, and with sideways movement giving a spread of up to 13” during ten ‘putts’. 

As an aside: The fescue/bent greens suffer much less disease, require less fertilizer, pesticide and water applications, in fact are more economical to manage in every way. At Temple this type of surface allows the golfer to play the course as the architect (Willie Park jnr) intended, giving the player more options and more challenges. 

Temple is using the information gathered and now micro-managing the different greens to bring them to a similar high fescue/bent standard. 

EXACTLY HOW DOES THE ‘GREENSTESTER’ WORK? 

greenstester,

The Greenstester

As the Greenstester evolved it became important that a system for consistent testing was established and The R&A led by Nick Park have produced a protocol for conducting the ‘Holing Out Test’. Put simplistically the ‘Holing Out Test’ requires the rolling of ten golf balls in the direction of the hole and at a pace that the ball, if it misses the hole, will only run past a full rotation, ie 5.25 inches. Depending on the time of year the test can be taken at 3ft, 6ft and 9ft and on good surfaces 10/10 putts will be holed once the operator has set the correct line and velocity. If more than 20% of ‘putts’ miss the hole, concerns about the integrity of the surface may be justified 

THE USES OF THE TEST ARE;

1. The regular monitoring of reliability.

2. As a reliability check after disruptive remedial greenkeeping work.

3. As a reliability check in advance of major club events. 

Interpretation of results should be kept in context as even surfaces which record 10/10 from any given distance are only true and reliable on that day, and only on the line of the ‘putt’. On one course used regularly for testing the Course Manager has found that he can reduce the mowing and/or rolling, and still attain the required green speed and reliability, which has yielded savings in a number of areas. 

CAUSES OF POOR SURFACE PERFORMANCE 

1. Variable growth of sward

2. Seeding Poa annua

3. Disease scars

4. Pitch marks

5. Moss/weeds

6. Foot printing on the green in swards with high organic content or thatch

7. Aeration and remedial work 

All of these causes of poor surface performance are preventable on a well-built and well-maintained putting green except, perhaps, during periods of extreme weather. The test is an aid to monitoring the reliability of putting surface, and should be used in conjunction with firmness and speed. The R&A will be reviewing the protocol and updating it as necessary.

See www.randa.org/thegolfcourse for more detailed information. 

WORLDWIDE ACCLAIM 

The Greenstester is already gaining recognition around the world and one of the earliest agronomists to appreciate its benefits was Megan Cushnahan of the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute. Megan came to Temple GC last year to see the course and for a demonstration of the Greenstester. She said “The Greenstester offers Greenkeepers the ability to measure the consistency of putting surfaces quickly and easily. For too long the focus of greens assessment has been solely on green speed; the Greenstester will provide an indication on how true the greens are actually putting. This will be useful for both greens management and golf teaching purposes”. 

In January this year Dr Micah Woods Ph.D. Chief Scientist at the Asian Turf Centre took delivery of a Greenstester, which he has trialled in Japan, India, the Philippines, and Thailand. Micah said “The R&A ‘Holing Out Test’ is an important addition to the evaluation of putting green performance, because it allows us to measure something that is closely related to the game itself. If we make a perfect stroke, is the green reliable enough that the ball will go in the hole? Putting greens that are reliable, meaning that the ball goes where it is intended, are sure to reward good putters with more birdies. I, for one, am excited about that prospect.” 

So there we have it, an affordable tool which will assist Greenkeepers endeavouring to produce quality putting surfaces while also providing golfers with more reliable greens for year round golf. For more details see www.greenstester.com 

malcolm peake martin gunn temple golf club,

Malcolm Peake and Martin Gunn testing at Temple GC

Let me finish by quoting Keith Adderley, Secretary of Temple GC who has this to say “Having been a fascinated observer during the process which saw the Greenstester conceived, tested and manufactured, I can see nothing but benefit from its use. A simple and cost effective tool that, if used on a regular basis, will create a bank of meaningful and, more importantly, useful, statistical information relating to the performance of putting greens. From where I sit the golf industry is onto a winner and what’s more golfers seem genuinely interested in finding out more when they see the Greenstester being used on the course. This very affordable tool will benefit Course Managers, Secretary/Managers, Green Committees, and golfers. This is one of the most exciting and affordable developments to hit the course maintenance market for many years.” 

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