The Unsustainability of PGA Green Speed

Last updated: February 17, 2023

One of the most difficult questions to answer is “why can’t your greens be like the ones we see on TV - their greens are fast and smooth and look awesome.” While this is all true, they are fast (stimping 11-12ft or sometimes faster), smooth (minimum double cut and double rolled each day), and look awesome (TV camera filters can make the greens look green). That being said, to get the greens to that level of “awesomeness” is unsustainable.

As indicated in Part 3 the PGA Tour plays on green with speeds in excess of 11 feet. As we review how these speeds are attained we must look at the following:

  1. how many times per day do the greens get mowed
  2. how many times per day do the greens get rolled
  3. what height of cut are the greens mowed
  4. how many rounds of golf occur during the tournament week
  5. how much water is irrigated on the greens per night
  6. how much/little fertilizer is used before the tournament week
  PGA Tournament Average Green Fee Golf Course
Average Mowing's per Day 2-4 1
Average Rolling's per Day 1-2 0.5
Height of Cut 0.090-0.110" 0.125-0.150"
Rounds per Week 418 1750
Irrigation Minutes per Week 2-4 8-12
Fertilizer used per Week 0 (week of event) 0.10-0.20 Lbs

As we look at the numbers a few things that should stand out are:

  • Increased mowing, rolling, and a lower height of cut to make them smooth. At this level of maintenance the greens will wear out in less than one month under regular play.
  • Almost no water to make them firm, also helps with greens speed if greens are very dry. This level of irrigation is unsustainable for plants to actively grow. Most PGA tour golf courses soak their greens the night after the event with over 60 minutes of irrigation just to try and “catch up”.
  • No fertilizer reduces the growth rate which again increases green speed but no growth also limits the plants ability to recover from any stresses.
  • Lastly the number of rounds played for the week averages out to 60 rounds per day. Your average golf course would need to charge 4 to 5 times what their current green fee is to support the cost of running a golf course business.

Another question often asked by golfers is “How quickly can faster greens be realized if maintenance staff cut and roll more often and lower the height of cut”? The answer is relatively quickly, within a week speeds can reach up to 11 feet.

The more important question is what are the risks to maintaining that speed for an extended length of time? The answer to this is more difficult to express but the main risk to greens is reduced health, thinning of turf, increased fungal diseases, more water use because of shorter roots, and a general “wearing out of the carpet”. Although green speeds can be increased within a week the same cannot be said about recovery of greens once they are “worn out”. Recovery can take a month or more depending on the season and the level of degradation. In fact greens can be push right “off the cliff” and completely fail. In this case greens would be re-sodded and a temporary green cut in place.

As indicated in Part 3, each golf course should set a SPEED LIMIT that is realistic to maintain on a consistent and regular basis. Smooth and true greens should be the goal, so set your SPEED LIMIT, because as we all know excessive speed kills…….putting greens.