11/15/17: Article on study by Geoff Shackelford
10/01/17: October 2017 Article in MGCSA Hole Notes
Green Speed Study: Impact of Golf Course Management Conditions on Pace of Play
In May of 2017, to address the challenges the golf industry faces, the United States Golf Association laid out their “Road Map to 2025” which sets the goals of improving golfer satisfaction by 20% while reducing critical resource consumption by 25% by 2025 (USGA, 2017b). Golf industry trends indicate that more golf courses are closing than are being opened, management costs are increasing, participation rates are flat or declining, and consumer behavior is changing (Licata and Tiger, 2010; NGF, 2017). It is critically important for golf course managers to identify factors that prevent golfers from participating in the game (Petrick, 2001). To achieve solutions to these challenges, understanding the systems and flows of a golf course; how resources are used, how golfers navigate and play the course, and how the golf course interacts with the environment is vital.
The Science of the Green Initiative’s Green Speed and Pace of Play study intends to explore how golf course conditions like green speed impact pace of play, round times, and player experience. Pace of play and golf course conditions are key variables in the success of the golf industry (USGA, 2017a). Slow pace of play and long round times are often cited as deterrents for potential participants and create inefficiencies in the throughput of a golf course, therefore not maximizing the facility’s revenue potential (Tiger and Salzer, 2004; USGA, 2017a).
Golf facility managers are pressured to increase green speeds, but these faster greens can result in decreased turfgrass health, higher maintenance costs, decreased player enjoyment, and potentially longer round times. Anecdotally, it is a common belief that faster green speeds result in slower pace of play. If this is true, pressure placed on the superintendent to provide faster green speeds does not align with the success of a golf facility and the enjoyment of the golfer. In order to maintain faster green speeds, more resources are used, thus increasing cost of maintenance (Danneberger, 1993; McCarty, 2001). Additionally, faster green speeds result in an increase in susceptibility to turfgrass stress issues, a high-cost risk (Sachs and Luff, 2002). If slow play is a factor in influencing participation, as current literature indicates, substantial effort needs to be placed in maximizing the throughput of a facility and decreasing the waiting times of golfers (Tiger and Salzer, 2004).
As previously mentioned, anecdotal evidence indicates that faster greens lead to slower play. The truth of that anecdote is unproven and the strength of that relationship is unknown. Numerous variables associated with golf facility management practices (mowing height, tee time interval, etc.) as well as the golf course design features (bunkers, hole sequence, green size, slope, etc.) and layout can contribute to slow play (USGA, 2017a; Doak and Crosby, 2017; Tiger and Salzer, 2004). Though many of these variables are accepted as significant variables in impacting pace of play and player experience, opportunities exist to better understand these variables through data collection and analysis.
This research project hypothesizes that there is a positive correlation between green speed and pace of play; as greens are managed to play faster, the time it takes to play a round of golf also increases. Therefore, the objectives are to 1) test the response variable, pace of play (time required per player per green) against the explanatory variable, green speed (measured by stimpmeter in feet, see Image 1) and 2) examine the significance of the interaction between the explanatory and response variable, how significant is green speed in impacting pace of play. This research examined the speed of the greens on various golf courses and how those speeds impacted the pace of play of a round of golf. The green speeds were measured using Stimpmeter readings and the pace of play was measured using GPS data of time spent on each putting green for each player throughout a round of golf.
Seven golf course study sites were selected to represent a cross-section of the industry with a variety of golf course characteristics (i.e. public, private, regional differentiation, etc.). At each site, a three-week study was conducted in which the speed of the greens was adjusted from week to week by an increment of one foot (1’) on the stimpmeter (see Figure 1). Golfers playing the course during that period were asked to carry GPS devices on their person throughout the round (see Image 2). These GPS devices captured latitude and longitude coordinates and speed of movement every five seconds and do not transmit data. Data was collected for 39,934 green times from 2,218 golfers on seven (7) golf courses around the United States.
Green Speed was shown to be statistically significant in impacting pace of play. An increase of one foot (1’) in Stimpmeter reading resulted in an increase of 6.39 seconds per green per player. This one foot (1’) increase equates to an increase in total round time of a foursome of 7.67 minutes. In some instances, the increase in time spent per player per green resulted in an increase of as much as 30 minutes per round for a one foot increase in green speed (25 seconds per player per green). Overall, playing experience ratings decreased as green speeds increased. This decrease, although statistically significant, was small (1’ increase in green speed resulted in a decrease in player enjoyment by 0.02 points on a 0-10 scale measuring player enjoyment).
In conclusion, through this project and the database created, it can be stated that green speed is statistically significant factor in pace of play. Faster greens equate to longer round times. The strength of this relationship, however, is not as substantial as hypothesized. More research needs to be conducted in order to understand the relationship between pace of play and the many variables that impact round times.
Additionally, the data collected has additional value regarding facility sustainability and productivity. The GPS golfer data collected gives golf facilities an overview of how their course is used. GPS devices not only provided valuable data on the pace and flow of golfers throughout the course, but they also provided insight into how the golf course was used. Using the GPS data, traffic and flow patterns of the golf course can be identified (see Image 3). This process revealed high traffic areas that may benefit from adjustments in turf management. It also exposed areas with very little or no traffic that do not require continual maintenance. These low traffic areas could potentially be utilized for other uses such as pollinator habitat, rain gardens for capturing stormwater, or a turfgrass nursery (to name a few). This green speed and pace of play data has significant implications for promoting more efficient golf course management and financials (USGA, 2017b).
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