Golf Grass: How Does It Affect Your Game?
Oct 3, 2013
When it comes to golf scores, a course's grass is just as important as the lay of the land. Playing surface affects ball speed and direction of travel. In short, mastering the putting green means getting to know grass.
There are three classic varieties common to today's courses: Bermuda grass, bentgrass and Poa Annua grass.
- Bermuda grass withstands high temperatures, making it common in the Southeast. It is often sandy, with coarse blades. Bermuda grass doesn't grow when disconnected from the stem, requiring frequent reseeding.
- Bentgrass is most common on today's golf courses. It is widely used in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest. Bentgrass is thick, providing a mat-like quality that many golfers find desirable.
- Poa Annua grass is frequently used along the West Coast. It has shallow roots, requiring large amounts of rain.
According to John Shelley, PGA professional at Golf Academy of America in Dallas, hybrids are becoming common as well. "Technology is changing our game," he said. "New grasses like MiniVerde are a great improvement from the greens of the past. Theses hybrids allow putting surfaces to roll 'true' like bentgrass but are much more hardy like Bermuda. Now we get the best of both worlds–puttablity and durability."
Classic or hybrid, each turfgrass has unique grain, resistance and green speeds. Michael Flanagan, an instructor at Golf Academy of America in San Diego with PGA credentials explains that understanding these characteristics can make you a better putter.
Grain is found when turfgrass blades grow in a relatively horizontal fashion with respect to the putting surface. "Grain may be a large reason LPGA/PGA Tour player's make only 54.8 percent of their 6' putts," Flanagan said.
Resistance refers to how quickly a putting surface's turfgrass will slow a ball down. A number of factors affect resistance, including grain, height, quality and turfgrass type.
Speed is technically expressed in terms of readings on a Stimpmeter, a device that applies force to a golf ball, then measuring the distance traveled in feet. Shelly recommends that players develop their own feel about whether a green is fast, slow or medium.
In Flanagan's experience, Bentgrass has little grain due to its upright growth habit, and its resistance is low thanks to its fine leaf blades. "Because bentgrass can be cut and easily maintained at very low heights, bentgrass greens are often fast."
He says that Bermudagrass offers moderate to high resistance. "Almost invariably, it has noticeable grain due to its disposition to horizontal growth. When maintained at low heights, grain becomes less of a factor and speed increases dramatically. In Bermudagrass regions, designers tend to incorporate more intense contour features into greens because of the grass's normally slower speeds." Many consider Bermuda a learned skill that takes time to master.
Whether you're playing the Poa Annua at Pebble Beach Golf Links on the California coast or a hybrid like MiniVerde in Dallas, there's no doubting that grass is a major player in the game of golf. Learn to respect it how it affects the ball and watch your putting game improve.