What Is a Stimpmeter and How Does It Work?

What, exactly, is a Stimpmeter, and how does it work?

If you’ve watched any kind of professional golf on the TV, you may have heard commentators and tour players talking about Stimpmeters. This mystical device has been around for a few years now, and it’s a vital tool in the kit of every golfing groundskeeper.

What Is a Stimpmeter?

A Stimpmeter is a simple device used to measure the speed of a putting green. It is a three-foot (36 inches) long extruded aluminum bar with a V-shaped groove extending its entire length. At one end of the bar is a little notch for placing the ball, positioned approximately 30 inches from the end that rests on the ground. The ground-end of the device is tapered to reduce bounce as the ball makes contact with the green. 

The purpose of this device is to apply a gravitational velocity to the ball, allowing it to roll along the green, the distance of which is then measured to get a green-speed reading.

At a glance, the Stimpmeter appears to be somewhat primitive compared to other golfing equipment and devices. It contains no fancy technology, and can hardly be described as scientific. It’s just a piece of metal. 

And that’s all it needs to be. It carries out a simple – but very important – function, allowing groundskeepers to easily and reliably get a reading of their greens. A green that is too fast or too slow can have a dramatic impact on play, so by carrying out Stimpmeter readings, groundskeepers are able to make necessary adjustments before the players show up. 

How Does a Stimpmeter Work?

You start by finding a flat piece of green and placing a golf ball in the notch of the Stimpmeter. Then, keeping the other end to the ground, you slowly raise the ball end.

When the device reaches an angle of about 22 degrees, gravity will cause the ball to be released from the notch. The ball will then roll down the bar, with the trough keeping it on track. The ball will then exit the ramp and roll along the green.

Using a tape measure from the base of the Stimpmeter (where it is touching the ground), you measure the distance the ball rolled in feet. You do this three times and calculate the average.

Then, you turn the device around and get another three measurements in the opposite direction. This is to account for slight changes in slope and grain which affect the speed of the green.

You then add your two average readings together and divide them by two. This gives you your Stimpmeter reading.

What is Considered a Good Stimpmeter Reading?

A typical golf club usually aims for a Stimpmeter reading of 9 or 10. This is generally considered to be the goldilocks zone of green speeds; not too fast, not too slow. 

For golfing competitions, it’s not uncommon to see stimpmeter readings creep up to 11 or 12, which is the average stimpmeter reading on the PGA Tour. Some greens in some competitions can creep as high as 13, 14, or even 15, which is crazy fast.

How Fast are the Masters Greens?

At Augusta National, the beautiful, uniquely challenging home of the Masters, things work a little differently. Quite simply, Augusta National authorities don’t publish or reveal Stimpmeter readings, and they don’t let anyone take a formal stimp reading.

The reason for this is because every hole at Augusta has its own distinctively unique character. The size, sloping, contour, and shaping of each green is meticulously designed, and the speeds of individual putting surfaces are intentionally faster or slower than others. The Augusta grounds crew know how fast each of their greens need to be – a published Stimpmeter reading would be a reductive analysis of the state of their greens. 

That said, all it takes is a few minutes of viewing time to deduce that Augusta’s greens run very quickly indeed. According to David Marcucilli – a professional agronomist with knowledge of Augusta’s maintenance – the greens run at an average of 12 on the stimp, peaking as high as 15. You can read more about Marcucilli’s Masters course insights here

Who Invented the Stimpmeter?

The Stimpmeter is named after Edward S. Stimpson, an accomplished amateur golfer who created a simple but lasting legacy of green speed reading. 

In 1935, Stimpson, the Massachusetts state amateur champion and former Harvard golf team captain, was spectating the US Open at Oakmont. After witnessing one of the top pros roll a putt of the green, Stimpson was convinced that the greens were too fast – and he wanted to prove it. 

He developed a device made out of wood which would come to be known as the Stimpmeter. In 1976, the stimpmeter was finally adopted by the United States Golf Association (USGA) as an official device; it was redesigned to be made from aluminum and was first officially used during the 1976 US Open at Atlanta.

In 2012, the Stimpmeter was modified to include a second notch, located halfway up the bar on the reverse side. This is to account for the fact that some greens don’t have a large enough flat area to allow for the full roll-out required to get a stimp reading. When using the halfway notch, the process of getting a stimp reading remains the same, only the distances recorded are doubled to get the final result.     

Final Thoughts

Other than that, the design of the stimpmeter remains more or less unchanged. Thanks to Stimpson, ground keepers everywhere have a reliable way of monitoring green speeds, allowing a more regulated and balanced playing field across the world of golf. 

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