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The U.S. Open is known for being the toughest golf championship, with firm, fast greens that are meant to test the best players in the world. As fans, it’s important to keep a few items in mind about how these championship conditions are produced, and why they aren’t what we experience for daily play.

Greens speeds are often a controversial topic, as many amateur players feel that faster is better. While green speed is one component of well-conditioned putting greens, smoothness, trueness and firmness are also important characteristics. Furthermore, faster speeds are not always better and often lead to slower rounds and higher scores – two things most golfers despise!

We could write an extensive article on why championship greens speeds aren’t a good idea for daily play, but it really boils down to two main reasons:

  • It takes an incredible amount of labor and time to provide championship-quality green speeds. Most courses don’t have the resources to perform the intense maintenance practices necessary to maintain fast green speeds consistently. Multiple mowing and rolling events every day with state-of-the-art equipment is only one piece of the puzzle. Precise water and nutrient management, and growth regulator applications are examples of other tasks that must be performed routinely to increase green speeds.
  • Turf can only handle so much stress, and the practices used to generate green speeds at the U.S. Open add stress to the turf. The conditions you see on television for any championship are usually not provided year-round, even at most U.S. Open sites. Conditions at championships tend to “build” into the event. That is, green speeds gradually get faster leading into the championship rounds and those conditions are maintained for only four days. After that, it is common for maintenance practices to return to normal and even become more defensive to promote turf health and recovery from stress.

Fast green speeds can be a fun experience but remember that what we see on television is a result of a massive effort by staff and volunteers that often quadruples the size of the maintenance crew from its normal size. These same resources are not the norm at most courses. Sure, some courses have large maintenance teams, but even under those circumstances it is important to remember that maintaining dense and healthy turf is always the priority. If maintenance practices that promote championship green speeds are performed for extended periods of time, turf decline is likely to occur even if vast resources are available.

The next time you are out playing and wonder why conditions aren’t similar to what you saw at the U.S. Open, keep in mind that the maintenance team is likely a fraction of the size and that your golf game probably isn’t quite as good as the players being tested either. At the end of the day, smooth and healthy turf is a wonderful surface to play on and to roll in some birdie putts, regardless of how fast the greens are. 

Central Region Agronomists:

Paul Jacobs, agronomist –

Zach Nicoludis, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff