What is a Stimpmeter of USGA & How to use it?

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What is a Stimpmeter in golf

What is a Stimpmeter in golf?

Stimpmeter is a simple device first used by the USGA to measure the speed of the golf course putting green. Knowing how fast the ball is likely to travel on the green tells you how much momentum you must impart to the ball. But you no longer need to rely on reading the greens with your supernatural abilities. A Stimpmeter will give you a relative idea of how fast the ball travels on the greens.

We examine this device in detail and explore whether it’s worth using the Stimpmeter on every green on the course.

What is a Stimpmeter?

A Stimpmeter is a highly unsophisticated design for the function it performs. The earliest version designed by Edward Stimpson is just a 3-foot ramp with a V-shaped groove.

It is barely 2-inches wide. The golf ball should be placed at a point marked by the notch on it. The ramp should be raised slowly to 20° from the ground as the ball slides down and rolls on the ground.

What is a Stimpmeter

The distance the ball travels from the Stimpmeter indicates the speed of the putting greens. More on that later.

The older version of this device is painted green. It is differentiated from the latest version designed by Steven Quintavalla of USGA labs by its color. This version comes in blue. It has a curved ramp on which the ball simply needs to be placed.

A Stimpmeter as seen at the USGA Headquaters
A Stimpmeter as seen at the USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. (Copyright USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)

How does Stimpmeter work?

A Stimpmeter works on the principle of applying a measured force on the golf ball and then measuring the distance the ball traveled. The ball travels at a known velocity every time on the ramp. Once it rolls on the putting green, the distance traveled by the ball is considered the speed of the putting green or it’s Stimp Rating.

For example, if the ball travels 10 feet, the Stimp Rating is considered as 10. If the distance traveled is 12 feet, the speed of the putting green is 12.

The larger the distance it travels, the faster the greens are.

Under ideal conditions, the Stimpmeter should be used on the flat part of the putting green. The putting green often not completely level. It is either uphill or downhill or both. It’s hard to find a large stretch of plain land on such greens where you can operate the Stimpmeter.

There’s a formula to calculate Stimp rating in such a case:

Here S (Up arrow) = Stimp Rating up the slope

And S (Down arrow) = Stimp Rating down the slope

You can operate the Stimpmeter in the uphill and downhill areas of the putting green and use this formula to find the Stimp Rating of that green. The greens are categorized as a slow, medium, and fast based on the following figures:

Speed Category Length
Slow 4.5 feet
Moderate 6.5 feet
Fast 8.5 feet

The figures are slightly different for the US Open:

Speed Category Length
Slow 6.5 feet
Moderate 8.5 feet
Fast 10.5 feet

Stimpmeter is used by USGA officials on the putting greens, although the same model is hard to find in the market. However, you can find Stimpmeter from other brands online.

Fact Check: Use Stimpmeter on every green?

Does it make sense to use a Stimpmeter on every green throughout the game every time you play on the course?

Not unless you want to be beaten to death by well-meaning gentlemen waiting to play behind you.

You can take the general reading on every green maybe once during slow hours and then compensate for the state of the grass. The length and wetness of grass can change its Stimp rating slightly.

Your putting prowess benefits from an idea about the speed of the putting green. But over-dependence does not help.

Instead, try pre-game putting practice to get a feel of the greens of a particular course. Use Stimpmeter only as a reference device.

History of Stimpmeter

The Stimpmeter traces its long history back to the 1930s when the inventor, Edward Stimpson, started introducing golf officials to this device.
He was harried by the dazzling inconsistency of greens which led his favorite player, Gene Sarazen to putt a ball into a bunker in 1936 Open at Oakmont Country Club.

An amateur champion golfer and the Harvard golf team captain himself, Stimpson decided to get serious about the Stimpmeter prototypes he was developing.

History of Stimpmeter

A quick piece of gossip relating to this tale is that the greens of Oakmont Country Club run 13-15 feet on the Stimpmeter. This club is known to have the most difficult greens amongst all Open golf courses.

Stimpmeter in Golf Tournaments

Before US open commences, a USGA official walks down every putting green and measures the speed using a Stimpmeter. The newer version used is blue in color.

USGA started using the Stimpmeter since the 1976 Open. The US Open is supposed to have the fastest but fairest greens. The municipal courses average around 6.6-8.5 feet. By contrast, at the US Open a greens speed of at least 11 feet is expected.

Stimpmeter in Golf Tournaments
Pat Gross, Director, Southwest Region, uses a stimpmeter to determine the speed of the green as seen on Saturday, May 10, 2008, at Torrey Pines (South) Golf Course in San Diego, Calif. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

Is Stimpmeter useful?

The opinion on this is divided. In this age of cutthroat competition between the golfers, every bit of information helps. So a Stimpmeter reading is a great help. But then again, the pros really depend on the feel of the greens to play the putt.

The exceptional golf courses try to make their greens consistent by taking regular Stimpmeter readings. This eliminates the golfers’ complaints that the greens haven’t been maintained properly resulting in uneven speed.

The perception of greens speed can be influenced by golfers’ own success on the course. So the course managers will have a definite answer to back up the course’s performance from the Stimpmeter readings.

Conclusion

A Stimpmeter gives you valuable information in terms of the speed of the putting greens. This is a device that we advise the judicious use of. Getting an idea of the speed of the greens will aid you in controlling your putting shots. Putting right alone can make a huge improvement to your game. Golf Club and course authorities can use this as a tool to maintain the same greens speed through various climatic conditions.