Greens – Not a level playing field

If you’re a tour professional or you play on greens surveyed by 3D laser mapping technology, you get access to a lot of data to help you read the slopes. Golfers like us – not so much. If you and I had a Green Book showing the slopes and gradient changes, accurate to less than a millimetre, on each green we played, we’d probably hit less putts through better knowledge.

While laser green mapping isn’t cheap, I do expect costs to fall as companies offer drone-based laser surveys and green books for courses like ours. I also expect a reaction from those who might feel strongly that this type of data reduces the reliance on skill and judgement. Let’s see.

So until we get access to Green Book style green reading data, we have to stick with the old-school tried and trusted techniques and the clues from our senses.

The Ken Brown test

One of the dangers from familiarity with repeatedly playing the same course every week, is that we can get lazy about reading greens. I certainly fall into this trap. We just know the slopes through embedded local knowledge. However, If we took the time to walk the course and really study each green in turn, maybe hit a few balls from different angles to test the borrows, like Ken Brown on the tele, would we learn new information about familiar greens? Would we write it down and would we use that information? I certainly would – conforming to the size limits and rules regarding such putting green data – of course.

This information, while useful, wouldn’t tell the entire story. What about the grain of the grass and direction and length of todays’ cut – the hole location, the amount of moisture – the firmness of the turf and the bobbles and imperfection of greens under seasonal maintenance?

Asking questions

Until I take an afternoon out to walk the course with a 4.5 x 7 inch notebook, I’ll stick to my usual routine. I like to assess the green as I approach it. Low winter sun often helps show the terrain a little better. Is there a pond or stream? Are we on a hillside? Where’s the horizon and are those tress growing straight or has the wind made them lean? By the time I mark my ball with my PuttBANDIT, I’ll have set an initial line and aim point. A quick look from the side and then behind the hole will confirm or alter that first alignment decision.

Speed then becomes the next thought. How soft and wet is it? Will the resistance of that sticky water on the ball, the length and grain of the grass and the ground temperature work with or against the gravitational pull of the slopes? My speed judgement might then cause an alignment change. I think about speed and slope as vectors. The slower the ball, the bigger influence of gravity. The faster the ball, the straighter it will roll.

And finally I trust my line, hit the ball, and on a bad day, repeat the whole process a few more times. So much for my skill and judgement.

Enjoy your game

How do you read the greens? Send us your green reading tips and techniques. Email them to us at and we’ll publish some of the most interesting in our monthly newsletter.

Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic golfer. Paul currently plays off a handicap index of 12.3 and saving up for a drone with a laser strapped to it.