Making A Lasting Impression
Can't Be Overstated
January 18, 2006
By , USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - You hear the term uttered
by golf announcers all the time during broadcasts. Reporters
often mention it during major championships such as the U.S. Open
when discussing the course setup. Golf professionals bring it up
before the start of any competition.
The statement might be something like:
The greens are 11 on the Stimpmeter.
What does that mean and exactly what is a
Stimpmeter? To the average golf fan, the number is just another
statistic. But to the competitors, golf course superintendent or
officials in charge of the setup, the figure is extremely vital.
Uniform green speeds are important in keeping the competition
fair and equitable. Fast greens are also a component to
championship golf at the highest level.
|Inventor Edward Stimpson was a talented
amateur player before developing his device, pictured above.
(USGA Photo Archives)|
And the measuring device that provides the
necessary data is called the Stimpmeter. The name is derived from
the man who invented it more than 70 years ago. was a highly
skilled amateur from who was good enough to captain the Harvard
men's golf team in the 1920s and win his state amateur
championship in 1935. A year earlier, he advanced to the round of
16 at the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club.
But Stimpson also had an inquisitive,
analytical mind. Although he went to work with his father at a ,
bank following his graduation from in 1929, and later moved to
the trust department of a large Boston bank, Stimpson sometimes
thought like a professor.
"He probably should have been a
professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or
something," said his oldest son, "He was a very
curious, scientifically oriented person."
While watching the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont
( ) Country Club, Stimpson noticed how excessively quick greens
prevented many of the game's best players from breaking 75.
native won the championship that year, mainly from his local
knowledge of the putting surfaces.
Stimpson's concern at the time was not
necessarily the speed of the greens, but consistency. So he
devised a way of measuring the green's quickness. He took a
piece of cove molding one would find between the ceiling and
walls and put a notch in it to hold the golf ball. To operate the
device, Stimpson laid his piece of wood on flat portion of the
green and then raised one end at a steady pace until the ball
released down the board. He then measured in inches how far the
Realizing the USGA might have a use for his
device, Stimpson spent $25 to have Charlton-Johnson Inc., a
woodworking company in the area, make 25 of them. He sent some to
the USGA's headquarters, but he received little interest.
Meanwhile, Stimpson would travel out to various competitions in
the area to measure greens.
"He collected statistics on how fast
the greens were," said the younger Stimpson. "In some
cases, the greens were really slow. So he began to communicate
with some of the tournament officials."
By the early 1950s, Stimpson had been
invited to join The Country Club, site of several USGA events,
including the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. It was there he came in
contact with several members of the USGA Executive Committee,
namely and . Through the years, he got to know former and , who
served as the USGA's senior technical director. Using
Stimpson's device as a blueprint, Thomas developed the
Speedstick, which measured greens in terms of feet, not
Thomas' Speedstick became an integral
tool for USGA officials at championships as well as agronomists
who wanted to ensure uniformity of their green speeds. But as the
USGA adopted this tool, the younger Stimpson said Rice stepped in
and told officials it could not be called the Speedstick. After
all, it was Stimpson's invention that Thomas used to develop
the Speedstick. So the USGA agreed to call this green-measuring
device the Stimpmeter.
Six years after the USGA adopted the
Stimpmeter, Stimpson, who would have turned 102 this June, died
But his legacy lives on at golf competitions
throughout the world.
"I know for a fact that [the
Stimpmeter] prolonged his life and gave him great
satisfaction," said , who still resides in the area.
"He had his friends and associates who would read about the
Stimpmeter all over the country communicating with him, and
sending him articles from the local press. It made him very
proud. I would say he was as proud with being involved with this
invention as anything."
One thing Stimpson never wanted to happen
with his device was to have clubs use it as a speedometer. He
didn't want Club A bragging to Club B that its greens ran 10
feet on the Stimpmeter compared to 8.5. Green speeds often become
a hot topic of conversation around the grill room because of what
people see on television during major championships. Some see
green speeds as a way of measuring a course's championship
worth, and Stimpson never envisioned his tool to be used in that
He wanted the Stimpmeter used so that
players would find the speed of the first green the same as the
18th. That's exactly what USGA officials do.
"He was very much against using the
Stimpmeter as a speedometer," said the younger Stimpson.
"He was against individual golfers having one of these
, the USGA's National Director of the
Green Section, said for the last 28 years, Stimpmeters have only
been available to course officials.
This debate over speed has been an ongoing
challenge for superintendents and agronomists. Some question
whether faster greens are good for the game. Certainly at the
U.S. Open, green speeds are important, but that is a competition
for the world's best players, not recreational golfers who
carry double-digit USGA Handicap Indexes. Creating faster putting
surfaces places increased pressure on those who maintain golf
courses. But club members and greens committee chairman often
want faster greens because televised golf showcases them during
Many use the Stimpmeter as the scapegoat in
this dilemma for racier greens. But as USGA agronomist points out
in the January-February 2006 issue of the
Green Section Record
, ".the Stimpmeter can be, has been and continues to be used
to keep speeds reasonable. If the USGA had not introduced it to
the game, someone else would have. Golfers and superintendents
asked for a way to measure green speed and they got it, for
better or worse."
After all, the Stimpmeter doesn't
double-cut the greens nor maintain them. It is simply a measuring
device. Televised golf along with improved agronomical technology
has been the key component in raising speeds. As Nelson writes,
"Speed has become ingrained in our collective golf psyche in
a very short period of time."
Just like advances in technology has
increased the distance the golf ball travels, these same
scientific improvements have changed maintenance practices.
's invention has, however, remained the
same since he first rolled a ball down a v-shaped piece of wood.
Stimpson wasn't looking to revolutionize the game nor did he
ever want to profit off the Stimpmeter. He simply saw the
Stimpmeter as a way to give something back to the game.
"Golf doesn't owe me
anything," the elder Stimpson said. "I owe golf .
I've had a marvelous life playing golf."
is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.