What is a Stimpmeter and How Does it Work?

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If you’ve watched a professional golf tournament live on TV, you’re sure to have heard the commentators talk about the Stimpmeter. For newcomers to the sport or those who are casual fans, this may be new to you and you may be left wondering what a Stimpmeter is and how it works?

Well, a Stimpmeter is a device used by a greenkeeper when measuring the pace of their putting surfaces around the golf course. 

They are more commonly used to measure the speed of the greens before a professional tournament and during the event.

For example, the greens at the Augusta National for the Masters are usually extremely quick and the commentators will regularly talk about the Stimpmeter readings throughout the tournament. We talk about the Stimpmeter as it’s a universal speed rating that can compare the speeds of the greens on one course to another.

You may think such a device would look complex but in fact a Stimpmeter is basically a long and narrow metal tray. There is a groove in the tray and this is crucial in the use of the device, which we will come to in more detail shortly.

Brief History of the Stimpmeter

The Stimpmeter was designed in 1935 by Edward S. Stimpson, who was a former Harvard golf team captain and Massachusetts state amateur golfing champion. 

The speed of the greens first came to his attention during the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where there were some extremely high scores and putts rolling off the green.

Stimpson came to the conclusion that the greens were unreasonably fast and as a result designed a device (The Stimpmeter), made from wood, to prove his point. 

The device was designed in a way that it could release a golf ball at a consistent velocity and measure the distance it rolled on the green. This distance could then be accurately measured and compared from course to course. The Stimpmeter was born!

How Does a Stimpmeter Work?

When setting up the course for a tournament, the greenkeepers will need to measure the speed of the greens using a Stimpmeter but how does the process work?

To measure the speed of a green, in addition to the Stimpmeter, you need three golf balls, three tees, and a 12 or 15-foot measuring tape. As we said previously, the equipment used is pretty basic and something anyone can easily get their hands on. The Stimpmeter itself can be bought for under £50.

Step 1 – Choose a level area of the green (it’s important that it’s a level area), roughly several feet wide and 10 to 12 feet in one direction

Step 2 – Push a tee in the green at one end of the level area. This will be used as a starting point and you can place the tapered end of the Stimpmeter on the ground next to the tee. 

Step 3 – Place a golf ball in the notch at the top of the Stimpmeter and raise it slowly until it releases, keeping the Stimpmeter steady at all times. Let the ball leave the Stimpmeter and roll onto the green.

Step 4 – Repeat the procedure in exactly the same manner for the remaining two golf balls. If done correctly, they should never finish more than 8 inches apart from each other. Locate the average stopping point of the three balls and push a tee into the green at this point.

Step 5 – Measure the average distance the balls rolled on the green which will essentially determine the speed. For example, if the balls rolled eight feet on average, the stimp is 8.0, if they rolled twelve feet, the stimp is 12.0, and so on.

Step 6 – For the second round of measuring, you should use the second tee as a starting point and the first tee as the aiming point. Repeat the process above and measure the two average distances, using one for each series of rolls. 

Step 7 – Calculate the average using these two distances and you have your official Stimpmeter speed of the green.

When greenkeepers prep the course for a professional golf tournament, an accurate reading will be taken on each green. This ensures the speeds are similar throughout the course and an overall average stimp reading can be recorded.

What is a Fast Stimpmeter Reading?

A fast Stimpmeter reading is generally anything 12 and above. 

For example, the greens at Oakmont Country Club (where the device was born) are known as some of the fastest in the world and can even peak at between 13 to 15! 

That is extremely quick! 

Those sorts of speeds pose a challenge on a flat putting surface but that’s not the case at Oakmont Country Club, where in addition to the speed, the greens are undulating. Thrown in the sheer size of some of the greens there and that can lead to some incredibly long, fast putts.

However these aren’t the norm week in week out. The venues on the PGA Tour will typically be around the 11-12 mark, while an everyday members golf club will typically be on average around 9-10 on the Stimpmeter. So, there only has to be a few points difference in the reading for there to be a drastic change in the speed of the greens.

Augusta National and Royal Melbourne which feature on the yearly golfing calendar are also home to fast greens, with the former believed to be around the 12 mark on the Stimpmeter. 

However, the officials at Augusta are not very forthcoming when it comes to handing over the stimp readings, so this is an estimate. Nonetheless, when watching the action live, either at the course (if you’re lucky enough) or on TV, it’s pretty obvious just how quick the greens are during the Masters.

Royal Melbourne’s greens were developed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the same man responsible for the putting surfaces at Augusta, so it is hardly surprising they come close on the Stimpmeter. Anyone who regularly plays golf in south-eastern Australia will know all about the wind and if it picks up during a round at Royal Melbourne, the greens can be punishing.

Next time you are watching a PGA Tour or European Tour event and the commentators mention the stimp readings, you’ll now have an appreciation of the relative speed of the green in question.