Conversation with a Stimpmeter

Columns - Outside the Ropes

May 1, 2019

© Guy Cipriano

Whenever major championship season heats up, I think of an old friend who I haven’t spoken with in many years. He’s made of steel, tends to be a little rigid, is very unforgiving and, in the wrong hands, can create quite a stir. Despite all that, I realized it was time I reached out, so, ladies and gentlemen, may I present The Stimpmeter – better known to the other veterans of course set-up as “Stimpie.”

TM: Long time, no see. You’re looking good, if a little stiff. Have you been working out?

Stimpie: Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of plank work for my core. Worst thing I can do is sag in the middle.

TM: Particularly since you have to endure another schedule change this year. What’s your take on the new majors calendar?

Stimpie: Before I say anything, let it be known that I’m only talking to you because we had a close, personal relationship for two decades. You handled me well. And I appreciate you waiting to talk until after the Masters. You know that everything there is under double-secret probation. I didn’t want to say something wrong and end up staking Chairman Ridley’s tomato plants. As for the new schedule? I’m excited. It will be good for golf, but it’s going to keep me on the road for some time. And I love the idea of holding the PGA at Bethpage Black and listening to those crazy New York sports fans.

TM: Give our readers a little family history. You’ve evolved over the years, at least since your ancestors’ days, right? Where are you and how’s the family?

Stimpie: I now live in New Jersey. So, as they say, “I got a guy!” – Edward S. Stimpson Sr., my great-grandfather. He was the 1935 Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former captain of the Harvard University golf team. He made the first Stimpmeter out of wood. We called him “Papa Woody.” In 1976, Frank Thomas of the USGA (who’s now puttering around with frogs) perfected our performance and recast us in aluminum. That was the year we made our public debut at the U.S. Open. Two years later, we were being mass produced and available to anyone. We quickly found out that in the wrong hands, I can be very dangerous!

TM: How so?

Stimpie: When golfers don’t understand our true job. I’m just an angled track that releases a ball at a known velocity so that the distance the ball rolls on a green surface can be measured. The key word there is “measured.” But golfers, especially low handicappers, and many golf superintendents are obsessed with how far I can sling a golf ball. Lots of money, time, labor and turf are wasted as a result.

I think people have forgotten our original intent. They’re more interested in how fast greens are rather than how smooth and healthy. Now others are accusing me of hurting pace-of-play. I say, ‘Don’t blame the tool, blame the carpenter.’

TM: Other than determining a green’s speed, what’s your true purpose?

Stimpie: Consistency is my middle name, although many seem to have forgotten this. The goal is not to make a green as fast as possible, but as consistent as possible, using appropriate green speeds for the weather conditions, green design, course budget and the handicaps of players. And let me define “consistency.” I mean similar surface pace from green to green. No surprises for the golfer. The PGA Tour turf staff does this well.

TM: So, you’re not a speed freak? Crazy-fast speeds aren’t practical for day-to-day play?

Stimpie: Damn straight … like me. Most golfers aren’t as good as they think they are, and fast green speeds stress the turf and slow down the pace of play. I never understood why the worst players out there want the fastest speeds. Hello?! They’re not that good!

The average player doesn’t understand that there are many factors affecting what the superintendent has to deal with when preparing a green surface: weather, humidity, contours, shade, drainage, over-the-top outings, golfer’s ability levels. Then, God forbid, I get into the wrong hands, like that of an overzealous green chairman or an ego-driven golf course superintendent who thinks fast automatically means good. And, even worse are those who buy those silly knock-off stimp-meters! I don’t even know those stimps.

TM: What about when golfers complain to the superintendent that the greens are too slow?

Stimpie: Duh … hit it harder.

TM: Besides major-tournament season, what’s your least favorite time of year?

Stimpie: Mid-summer up north. The weather is changing and it’s too damn hot! And humid. But if I think it’s tough, how do you think a turf plant feels getting a close shave every day to please the masses? Whew!

TM: Speaking of up north, you’re looking forward to returning to Bethpage?

Stimpie: You bet! Great spot and great fans! It’ll be nuts, so Sergio and Bryson had better behave. I don’t even mind being a bit out of sync with the new timing of the PGA Championship. Luckily, I work with the PGA’s Kerry Haigh. Smart guy, you know. Reliable. The speeds at Bethpage might be a little slower than the U.S. Opens there. I bet Kerry is relieved we’re not trying to get green speeds up in August. Even I would start sweating and powdering my grooves with Gold Bond.

TM: How about the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach? Is that a treat for you?

Stimpie: Absolutely! The Mrs. always enjoys Carmel. Ca-ching! And our National Open, the toughest to win. The small greens at Pebble are tough to putt and tough to stimp. But Chris and Jack will have it ready.

© Guy Cipriano

TM: Do you ever feel as if you’re being used?

Stimpie: Dude, I’m over-used. People dragging me out early each morning – I haven’t even had my first espresso and cannoli! Off we go, running around, rolling golf balls back and forth. To add insult to injury, members want the superintendent to post my daily measurements in the golf shop! How would you feel if you’re trying to drop a few and everyone knows where you’re at? But you know the tricks to get the readings faster than they are, right? (chuckles)

TM: A few rapid-fire questions. Give me your first thought on the following. What are the hardest greens you ever measured?

Stimpie: Oakmont Country Club. Crazy-fast! I almost slid off their surfaces one year.

TM: Least favorite golf course?

Stimpie: Don’t have one. I love them all, but especially those that listen to common sense when using me.

TM: Favorite golf course?

Stimpie: Too many to think about, but I do enjoy The Old Course.

TM: Speaking of the home of golf, are you claustrophobic when the R&A puts you in a wind tunnel at The Open to get a “true” green speed?

Stimpie: I get nervous. It’s like an agronomic MRI, but it makes great sense when the course is firm and their winds are howling. Keeps my balls on track.

TM: Worst moment?

Stimpie: There have been a few. Usually when the “N.A.R.P.’s” or “Non-Agronomic-Real People,” use me incorrectly and don’t listen to the actual data produced.

TM: Are you are good for the game?

Stimpie: Yes. Again, consistency is the mantra. Excess is not good. Also, I’m evolving. Look at my new ball placement slot. The USGA created it when I’m on the steep, sloped green surfaces of our great, classic courses. It’s a great idea because it keeps the classics from becoming like pool tables, flat and boring.

TM: What’s your biggest fear?

Stimpie: Rust!

TM: Who is your favorite Stimpmeter user?

Stimpie: Come on! You’re my one and only. Thanks for the memories, buddy.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf ( Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at or on Twitter @TimMoraghan