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Green Design and Construction

Green Drainage

Bunkering Protective Mounds

To keep the rain water from draining off the green and out through the trap, thus carrying the costly sand into the forest of the fairway never to be seen again, bunkers are usually shielded from drainage flow off the green with protective mounds that channel the water away. These mounds have quite an effect on green slope inward from the edge of the green, sometimes a long way into the interior of the green.

Tiers, Swales, Ridges, Humps, Bowls ...


Pinnable Areas

Greens today are sized and designed with lobes so there are enough clear and reasonably flatish areas suitable for locating the pin that the pin location can be rotated on a regular basis. The purpose is not only variety, but to preserve the green from excessive foot traffic buildup around the pin. Usually, a green needs about 14 separate 12-foot diameter circles that are suitable for pins, since the region within 6 feet of the hole gets a vastly disproportionate amount of the foot traffic. That's a two-week supply. These pinnable areas are then used in a rotating system during the week or month to rest up old areas. This approach means that greens will usually be a minimum size about 3,000 square feet, and most are considerably larger than this. The more severe the undulations and tiering on a green, the larger it needs to be to accommodate the pinnable areas.

Guidelines for Pin Placements

Hole Cutting Technique and Rules

Cup holes are cut to the center of the earth, not flush to the surface slope. Cup liners must be down below the lip by at least one inch to avoid the top of the liner knocking balls back out of the cup. The cup has to be a minimum of 4 inches deep so ball don't hit the bottom and pop back out. Holes have to be 4.25 inches in diameter and round. The lip must be round and intact, or the hole requires repairing. In pulling the cut plug up for the new liner, the greenkeeper needs to avoid sucking up a "volcano" around the hole. These usually extend away from the lip for 4-5 inches, and can be noticed as a faint light ring that mounds toward the lip. Foot plates are available for the greenkeeper to press this area down after removing a plug. New plugs are used to fill old holes, and ideally the surface afterwards is smooth and flat and unbriken. Sometimes old hole plugs stick up, and sometimes that settle too deep, and sometimes the old hole is too wide and requires in-filling with sand.

Grass Type and Playing Conditions

Speed Preparations

Environmental Factors Affecting Speed

Cues to Green Speed

  • Grass type and height of mow cut.
  • How hard the turf is packed as felt by the feet.
  • The lushness of the grass showing moisture content.
  • The color of the grass (green to blue for slow, dun to tawny for fast).
  • Humidity level.
  • Presence or absence of shade.
  • Cloud cover.
  • Ambient temperature.
  • Presence, speed, and constancy of breeze or wind.
  • Depth of ball marks.
  • Whether spike marks on surface have dried to a cake.

Assessing Overall Slope


Plumb Bobbing

True Vertical References

The true vertical assists greatly in assessing and evaluating green contour and overall slope. Gravity defines verticality. Vertical is "straigth down" to the center of the earth. Every separate piece of the earth's gigantic mass attracts an object like a golf ball, the human body, or water molecules. In point of fact, both a golf ball and the earth attract each other. "Weight" is the result of the masses of BOTH the earth and the object in question, not just one or the other. If you placed two bowling balls far out in space away from all planets and stars, they would attract each other and drift closer together until they collided. The same is true for two metal balls in a physics lab in Princeton, except the attraction is so far overwhelmed by the attraction of the gigantic earth that the effect is difficult but not impossible to detect and register. So we ignore these other forces.

If you hold a golf ball aloft and let go, it will always drop in the same straight-down direction, pulled toward the center of the earth. This is a very convenient and useful fact for reference. It's the same idea for using a plumb bob to get buildings and walls vertical. If you built a skyscraper out of plumb, it just might fall over, so most buildings should be built straight up. However, casual structures, old structures, and things that are subject to use do not always remain vertical. The flag in the green is a good example. The flag is supposed to be set in the green vertical to the earth and not perpendicular to the slope of the green. However, sometimes the greenskeeper is off in setting the flag and sometimes the setting gets knocked about during the day with wind and golfers. Similarly, old wooden houses settle unevenly over time and wooden structures get a bit warped.

So, the best vertical references are tall, permanent brick or metal structures like tall buildings, tall chimneys, and communications towers. Poor references are telephone poles, street signs, wooden houses, flags, and trees. Nearby ponds or standing water provide perfect horizontal references just like in a carpenter's spirit level, and thus serve indirectly as true vertical references.

Here are some neat tricks for getting a good vertical calibration:

1. If there is a background landmark that serves as a good vertical reference, you can sight the flag pole against the edge of the vertical landmark to assess whether the flag is indeed vertical. If so, you can use the flag.

2. Similarly, you can suspend your putter like a plumb bob and use it as a vertical reference (not to see break or slope, just to see what is vertical). And you can also sight the flag pole with your plumb bob putter to see if the flag pole is vertical.

3. Another trick is to lift the flag pole out of its seat in the cup and suspend it like a pulmb bob directly above the hole about three or four inches so the base of the flag hangs straight down; then drop the flag into the hole: if the flag pole stays still and doesn't wander in a tilt out of vertical, the flag is upright, but if after dropping the flag into the hole it tilts to the side any, the flag is crooked and not a good vertical reference.

4. Just hold a golf ball in one hand suspended above the other palm and drop it; watch the line of fall -- it's a true vertical reference.

These sources of the true vertical calibrate your sense of upright posture and balance and give you a big headstart on seeing the slope and contour of the green accurately.

Inner Ear Vestibular Sense


Proprioceptive Sense of Upright


Factors Training Grain

  • Grass type - bent grows straight up, Bermuda grows sideways and sprawls (more grainy)

  • Heliotropism - plants grow toward the light, so the daily trajectory of sun across local sky attracts the grass, and thus the grain. In the northern hemisphere, the sun's path across the sky is mostly south of straight overhead. Growth is more profuse when temperatures are warmer, and in the daily cycle that period is usually midafternoon. So the sun's path at midafternoon to late afternoon (southwest) has a greater training effect on grain.

  • Drainage - since the green is permanently contoured, the direction that gravity channels the water off the surface is fixed. Rains that generate sufficient water so that drainage does not merely seep down but also runs laterally off the green tend to train grain. The extent to which rain affects grain depends on the regularity and volume of rains and the severity of slope in the drainage contour. In Florida, the daily afternoon thunderstorm downpours are regular and heavy, but the drainage slope varies considerably.

  • Wind - steady winds can influence grain, so long as the direction is sustained and the velocity substantial. This is sometimes the case with seaside courses under the influence of steady sea breeze patterns or island courses and trade wind patterns.

  • Mowing - the direction the mower travels can create a grain, and for this reason (and others) superintendents change the mow patterns daily. Still, the standard mow pattern has stripes in alternate directions. Putting within the same stripe can be influenced by the direction of the mowing. Putting across stripes tends to average out the grain effect. Putting perpendicularly across the stripes would seem not to influence the roll except right at the cup where it matters most. Occasionally, the boundary between mow stripes can be missed and this creates a surface irregularity of high grass that can deflect the ball's roll.

  • Verticutting - the purpose of verticutting, aside from its aeration effects, is to neutralize grain by cabining sidewise growth and promoting growth more upward.


Grain Effects on Break

Bent grass seldom if ever has any grain worth noting these days. Bermuda grass still has considerable grain. Grain is the dominant direction that the grass blades grow. Grain occurs mostly in a patchwork pattern, rather than in a uniform pattern across the entire green. Grain can also be present as a result of the mowing patterrn, as the mowers tend to train the grass blades into a uniform direction with the direction of the separate mow stripes.

Grain usually grows in the same direction as the afternoon or setting sun, as this is the strongest effect of "helioptropism" -- the tendency of plants to grow in the direction of the light. Grain sometimes grows in the dominant drainage pattern, which is obviously downhill.

Grain is identified / perceived by noting the shine on the backs / tops of the flatish grass blades versus the shadows beneath the grass blades. Looking or putting "into" the grain, the tips of the blades are pointing to you, and the dominant perception is of the shadowy darkness beneath the tips. Looking or putting "with" the grain, the tips of the blades are aiming away from you, and the dominant perception is of a shiny lightness or dullness reflected off the backs or tops of the blades with the darkness of the shadows beneath the blades obscured. The best direction to face when trying to see grain is into the sun, since having the sun at your back will tend to wash out the shadows beneath the blades and make seeing the contrast between light and dark more difficult.

Putting "with" the grain, the ball's rolling is opposed by less friction than either a no-grain surface or a putt "into" the grain, and so rolls farther for the same stroke as it would into the grain or across surface without grain. The ball sort of "surfs" the welcoming backs of the grass blades. The surface is effectively "faster." Hence, the golfer needs to envision the break that corresponds to a faster surface, which is a bigger break with a more gradual slowing and stopping of the ball over a longer decay path. In addition, putting with the grain has some similarity to putting with the wind: the consistent directionality of the grass blades tends to keep the ball headed the same direction of the grain to a certain extent, regardless of changes in surface contour. The effect is as if the rolling ball slips or floats thru the "break' that otherwise would occur due to surface contour.

Putting "into" the grain, the ball's rolling is opposed by more friction than either a no-grain surface or a putt "with" the grain, and so rolls shorter for the same stroke as it would with the grain or across surface without grain. The ball sort of runs against defensive pikes, as it keeps impaling itself on the somewhat stiff and pointed blades of grass angled up slightly from laying flat on the ground. The surface is effectively "slower." Hence, the golfer needs to envision the break that corresponds to a slower surface, which is a shrper, more radiused break with a more dramatic slowing and stopping of the ball over a shorter decay path. In addition, putting into the grain has some similaritiy to putting into the wind: the consistent opposition of the grass "pikes" lessens a wee bit as the ball turns away from the pike line to run sideways across the grain as the break of the surface contour takes hold (i.e., the putt is not straight) and this mild effect lengthens the sideways path of the roll just a little.

Putting "across" the grain, the ball's rolling speed pattern is intermediate between that of putting "into" the grain and that of putting "with" the grain.

Putts with break from the surface contour never truly run only "with", "into", or "across" the grain, as the direction of roll across the direction of grain is changing. The last section of the roll's path (when the ball is slowing to a stop) is where the break is most pronounced and the effect of the grain is also most pronounced.

Uphill-Downhill Effects on Break

The grain that runs "downhill" or "uphill" may not have the same alignment as the line thru the surface at any given point that is straight uphill-downhill with respect to gravity. For clarity, the discussion here assumes the grain and the gravity uphill-downhill direction are the same.

When the grain runs downhill, the break also heads downhill, so that makes the friction loosen up as the ball turns downhill. If the golfer is putting straight downhill, then the putt is obviously fast, but there is not any break to worry about. More normally, the golfer will be putting a little sideways across the surface and then the ball will "take the break" and start heading down-grain. As it does so, the ball will tend to "float" thru the break and break less than anticipated.

When the golfer putts uphill and the grain runs downhill, the ball rolls more slowly and breaks more sharply and stops more abruptly.

Putting slightly uphill but mostly sideways across surface with the grain running downhill, the ball's roll direction turns downhill somewhat at the end of the path into the hole, and friction lessens. The grain does not really "take" the ball with its direction. Instead, the lessened friction allows the ball to roll downhill farther than otherwise. This extra downhill rolling does not ordinarily matter very much, as the hole gets in the way fairly soon, but if the break is large with a considerable path to cover from the turn downhill to the lip, than downhill grain may tend to "float" the ball thru the anticipated break too much so the ball misses the hole on the far side.

Occasionally, the grain may run uphill near the hole, and this may "float" the ball oddly uphill at the end. I suspect that the grain direction when this occurs is a little aslant the true uphill line, and has the ball keep on a track it is following when it still has a little steam left in the roll. If so, these situations will also tend to make the golfer miss to the uphill side by not seeing the grain, or miss to the far side even if the uphill grain is seen.

Optimal Break from Optimal Speed

One Speed, One Read -- Modern neuroscience teaches that the brain is similar to a flight simulator: it's main job is to predict accurately the future consequences of movement, a skill that the brain learns throughout life by ceaseless trial and error, and without which the animal using that brain will die. Animals live because their brains are well-trained and highly skilled at predicting accurately the consequences of intended movements. How does this work in reading a breaking putt? The three principal factors that determine the curving path of a rolling golf ball across the contoured surface of a putting green are 1. the exact shape of the tilts of the surface in relation to flat and level in gravity; 2. the surface speed of the green over the path; and 3. the pattern of rolling speed of the ball over that same path. Of these, the only factor in the control of the golfer is the rolling speed of the ball. From the beginning of a putt to the end of a successful putt in the bottom of the cup, the ONLY section of the putt where the golfer can accurately predict and envision the rolling speed pattern of the putt is at the end, specifically the last several feet of the path as the ball slows and drops into the cup. A golfer who has a consistent tempo and good distance control always delivers the ball into the final few feet of EVERY putt, regardless of length or green speed or contour, with the SAME "terminal velocity" or "delivery speed" -- the ball always drops into the cup with about the SAME rolling speed right as it crosses the lip of the cup on ALL putts. At least, this is true so long as the golfer uses his normal tempo and touch. THEREFORE, when the golfer envisions the break of the ball into the cup, he is implicitly relying upon his normal tempo and touch with its same-every-time delivery speed in order to predict accurately the exact curving path of the ball over the final 3-4 feet of the putt. Once he "sees" this accurately and realistically in his "mind's eye," the remainder of the path of the putt constructs itself backwards from the hole to the golfer's ball at his feet, establishing a startline and a distance for the putt. Great putters use only one delivery speed, and therefore always look for only one read. Once they see this break, then they are able to make choices, but not before. The usual choice is to putt the normal break, using the normal tempo. The notion that there are multiple breaks to choose from on any putt depending on "how hard you are going to hit it" is alien to great putters. One speed, one read.

The physics of ball-hole interaction teaches that a steady delivery speed of between 1-3 revolutions per second (rps) at the lip of the cup will 1. minimize comebacks, 2. maximize the effective capture width of the hole, and 3. take care of surface problems getting the ball to the cup. A speed of 1 rps dives deep to the bottom of the cup without hitting the back wall. A speed of 2 rps dives deep but hit the back wall near the bottom of the cup. A speed of 3 rps dives into the cup and hits the back wall about halfway up from the bottom to the top edge of the cup liner.


Setting Up with Reference to Slope

In the fairway on a sidehill lie with the ball ABOVE the feet, the golfer will tend to lose the shot DOWNHILL unless he conforms his setup to the slope. In the fairway on a sidehill lie with the ball BELOW the feet, the golfer will tend to lose the shot DOWNHILL unless he conforms his setup to the slope.

In putting, the same is true. For a right-hander, a right-to-left break is a "ball above the feet" sidehill lie, and a left-to-right break is a "ball-below-the-feet" sidehill lie. Reagrdless of handedness, the golfer will tend to lose the putt downhill to the "amateur" side unless he conforms his setup to the slope.

To conform the setup to a tilted slope, the golfer needs only to flatten the sole of the putter to the surface. Then by bringing the body to the resulting orientation in space of the handle of the putter without changing it effectively conforms the golfer's body and setup to the slope.

This works the same when the slope is down away from the feet, up away from the feet, or uphill to the left or to the right. Whatever slope the surface of the green has, the golfer always simply flattens the putter and then brings the body to the handle.

Visual Perception and Reading Putts


Mental Imagery / Visualization for Reading Break


Kinetic Imagery / Visualization for Assessing Energy Patterns


Updated Monday, July 7, 2008 6:13 AM


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