John Renslow: Knowing the grass can help your game
Get Into Golf
Our game is played in nature. We remember this when rain is on its way, grab the umbrella, get the rainsuit, and cover the clubs. Those are the big things. But, what about the seemingly small things – small things that add up to a big effect on our game?
Grass, for example. Knowing some differences should help your game, especially this time of the year when we might consider a trip to a warmer location.
Grass types will often go overlooked and, if you are planning a trip to Hawaii, Mexico, Florida, or the simple jaunt to the Palm Springs area, there is something you need to know. All grasses are not created equal.
Here in Northern California, most putting greens are built with a type of grass known as “Bent.” There are many varieties of Bent. For example, some are more drought or heat resistant, but for golfers they have very similar characteristics.
Well-maintained Bent grass greens are very consistent, with regard to speed, and are not stressed in cooler temperatures.
Now quickly, let me point out that virtually all of these greens will succumb to another plant called Poa Annua, affectionately known as “Poa” (pronounced Po). This plant is tracked from one course to another, typically from the bottom of our golf shoes, and germinates. This surface is not as consistent as Bent, but it’s not a bad surface and currently there is not a cost effective strategy to resist it.
In warmer environments, climates that maintain higher temperatures, tropical areas, the common grass is known as “Bermuda.” Bermuda grass thrives in warmer temperatures. However, the plant will be dormant and turn a light shade of beige in cooler temperatures (around 65).
Yet, for locations that don’t see cool weather periods, Bermuda is a hearty grass. When maintained correctly, Bermuda can be a very nice surface.
The key thing for us is to learn how the ball will roll on Bermuda. Bermuda has almost fibrous strands of grass that can have a fairly dramatic influence on the roll of the ball. These strands tend to grow in a primary direction and this “grain” will actually move the ball to some extent.
Balls that roll “with the grain” will travel faster then a ball rolled the opposite direction “against the grain.” A ball intended to roll straight may move left or right depending on the grain.
So, how do we know how to determine this grain? I’m glad you asked.
One thing to look for is the appearance. If the green appears to be a light shade of green when looking at it one way and a darker shade the other way, take note. If it is dark, you are ‘down grain’ and the putt should be a bit faster. Conversely, the lighter appearance let’s you know you are putting ‘against the grain’ and the putt should be slower.
Another way is to take your putter head and push some of the grass on the fringe. (Don’t do this on the green, it’s not legal to “test the surface.”) If the blades of grass resist, you are against the grain. If they mat down, you’re with the grain.
One more way is to look inside the hole. The blades will grow over the edge of the cup in the primary direction of growth. Usually, this is going to be toward the location of the setting sun or a large body of water (such as the ocean).
So, if you’ve determined that the grain is against you, hit it a little harder. Or, if the grain crosses you, the ball will tend to move a bit more in the direction of the grain.
This will certainly save you some strokes, which is important. You don’t want your golf game to gone on vacation, while you’re trying to enjoy some time in the warmer weather.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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