This is a problem which has vexed me for years; I first wrote about it in Golf Monthly in 1984.It is, of course,completely dependant on the type(s) of grass found in the sward. In essence, there are three parameters of " ball behaviour " to track : speed, firmness and trueness. Speed is hugely overrated as a measure of quality, and recent research has also shown that the Stimpmeter is simply not fit for purpose. However, speed is still a useful number to monitor regularly, and a new ( reliable )tool will soon be available. Firmness is related to moisture, but crucial in determining the effects of spin on the green. It is measured at least quarterly by a Clegg meter. Which leaves us with the real bugbear : trueness.
Now, I must declare an interest as a member of The R&A Golf Course Committee which has worked to solve this problem. The first step was to build a machine which measures trueness(lateral deviation) and smoothness(vertical deviation). This was developed by the STRI and is regularly used by them ( and by The R&A during The Open). But it does not solve the monitoring issue for the wider game. It is too expensive for most clubs to consider. So we have developed a simple tool which allows replicated putts to be made from distances up to about 12 feet. We have also developed a protocol which is based on replicating 10 successive putts from ( usually ) 6 feet. 10/10 is a perfect score for "reliability" and any club wants to see that 365 days a year. Not always possible, but if the sward itself is of high enough quality, then the test rarely fails. Remedial work on such surfaces e.g. overseeding or aeration may look unsightly on a good fescue/bent sward - but it still passes the test. I have plenty of film to prove it! On bad swards ( usually meadow-grass dominated ) we have often found scores of only 6/10 from 6feet. For 8 months of the year!Imagine playing your golf regularly on such surfaces: 4/10 of your perfectly-hit putts will miss from 6 feet because of defects with the surface. This tool is currently on test in various countries/climates and (subject to results ) The R&A expect both the tool and the protocol to be widely promoted to greenkeepers and clubs early next year.
Now: this is not an attempt to blind with science.I have every sympathy with customers who feel they have not received value for money at a golfing venue. But, as consumers, we are all much better at judging the quality of the chips or the temperature of the beer. What golfers have lacked - for far too long - is a way of judging if they are getting value for money from the putting surface. The reverse of the coin is that club/course managers need to know that they are actually delivering such quality. Subjective comments from golfers who have an off day are about as unhelpful as the guy who wins the monthly medal on greens which are like pegboards. He says the course is wonderful - but we all know it was just his turn to fluke a lot of putts. The only way forward is objective and regular testing of surfaces, with results ( or even film ) which clubs can publish if golfers want to see the evidence... continued below.
Now,finally to Waterville.I did a piece on the course for The R&A website a couple of years ago. I stand by my views at that time. The process of fescue reclamation goes on - and is being done as skilfully as you will find anywhere in GB&I. It is very far from an easy process,but the results over 365 days a year are tremendous. I would agree that visually the overseeding can be an issue at times - but it is not affecting the trueness of the surface from 6 feet. And that is the length of putt which The R&A believes is a fair test of reliability for a green surface. As it happens, this test was first carried out - for the first time anywhere - on 28th March 2011 - at Waterville. And much of the development work has been done there, because the surfaces are so good throughout the whole year. One final point if I may. In my opinion, the owners of the club have done a wonderful job in bringing the course up to where it is now. And it will continue to improve, and it will continue to justify a very high rating. Messrs. Hackett and Mulcahy would be well pleased. Happy to answer any queries from the above, if I can. I don't know who " Epic Fail " is but I'm sure he has done a great service by giving us a chance to open up ( in my opinion )the really crucial issue : the quality of the golf and the golf course. Better understanding of all the issues involved can only help clubs to consistently deliver value for money.