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Green reading is an art, and books that provide the angles and attributes of course greens are a huge cheat sheet.

The game of golf was designed for the player to use judgement to play exceptionally well. The greatest players used better judgement because they gained a great deal of experience through years of trial and error. Numerous considerations – other than swing mechanics – go into hitting a good shot. Here are a few:

• Distance to the target

• Adding or subtracting yardage due to the target being uphill or downhill 

• The proper club of choice

• Alignment 

• Wind

• Lie of the ball 

• The particular best-shot pattern and trajectory to play the shot

• The carry of the ball, the bounce of the ball and the rollout or backspin of the ball

• Mental attitude and commitment to the shot

• Execution

The considerations listed above are needed to hit the ball consistently throughout a round of golf. There are other factors that make huge differences in a player’s score. Many of these come from planning how to best play a particular hole (course management). These plans are as individual as shoe sizes, as every player hits a different type of shot with a different type of trajectory and at different distances.

When it comes to putting, there’s a whole other crop of considerations to ponder.

• Speed of the putt

• Break of the putt

• Speed of the green

• Grain (or growth pattern) of the grass on the green

• In a long putt (or lag putt), where you want your golf ball to stop that will allow for an easy second putt

• For shorter putts, do you want to play the break and die the ball into the hole? Or do you want to take some of the break out and firm the ball into the back of the cup?

These are only a few thoughts that should be decided by the player. There are some other factors that are to be considered during competition. If a player is competing in a tournament and is a couple shots behind with only a few holes to play, that golfer may choose to be more aggressive. Or if the player has a very comfortable lead in a stroke play tournament going into the final few holes, he or she might elect to play more conservatively. There are countless scenarios that come up in a round of golf and oh so many thoughts and demons to battle in the minds of golfers during that casual round of golf. In tournament play, these considerations are amped up considerably.

When I was very young and just starting to play the game in 1961, things were quite different than they are today (of course, dirt itself was much newer). In the 1960s, the various strains of grass were nowhere as pristine as we find them today. The term, “dig it out of the dirt,” was a common statement back then, but now, if a player finds his ball on hardpan or a plain dirt lie on a golf course, the superintendent must be asleep at the wheel.

On the greens, the blades of grass were much thicker and did not give the pure roll that golfers find today. On most good golf courses, all of the bunkers throughout the course offer basically the same texture now, but be assured, that wasn’t the case in the 1960s. The grass found in the fairways today will usually give a player a beautiful lie, where the golf ball sits up as if it was perched on a tee. When I started playing, I still wanted to hit the fairway but tried not to be too upset if the ball settled down between two clumps of weed heads. In this article, I am not going talk about how much the ball and the golf club have been amped up but rather just stick with the other thoughts.

In my opinion, improvements to the playing conditions of grass on the fairways, greens and bunker sand is amazing and, although expensive, a very good thing for the game. The USGA should receive almost all of the credit for these improvements, due to non-stop efforts in improving the game through research and development. I certainly applaud them for this; however, I think they’ve turned a blind eye to a few other things that I believe need to be considered. Please write to me with your opinions on the following observations. Please send to: Coach Dave Jennings, Central Alabama Community College, 1675 Cherokee Rd., Alexander City AL 35010.

•  The Rules of Golf states that during play from tee to green, a player may not use any equipment or device to assist in alignment. This is a rule that the USGA takes very seriously. In the first breech of this rule, the player is given the general penalty of two strokes. Should the same player be penalized a second time for breaking this rule, that player is disqualified. That’s a serious penalty.

So how in the heck is it OK to draw an alignment line on the golf ball that a player on the Tour is going to spend five minutes adjusting to his or her intended line for every single putt? So far, I’ve contacted three USGA officials with this question, and all they said was, “Good question! Sorry, I cannot answer that.” I’ve got a call in to the USGA Rules Department to receive clarification, but I haven’t received an answer yet.

• Years ago, most golf courses offered a bit of assistance to players in planting bushes on the left and right sides of the fairways measuring 150 yards to the center of the green. At that time, players could estimate that there were 12 more yards to the middle, if, say, the pin appeared to be up in the front third of the green.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, most golf courses began placing yardage stickers or plates on their sprinkler heads, measuring the distance to the front, middle and back of the greens. In the late 1990s, players began to use rangefinders to provide exact measurements to the flagstick or any point upon which the laser could hone in.

In tournament play and at nicer golf courses, golfers are given hole location sheets that offer exact hole measurements on each green. Many golf courses offer yardage books that provide exact measurements of every hole from tee to green. This allows a player to read the book and know whether or not to try to carry the lip of a fairway bunker in that dogleg or play conservatively. 

• I really hate green-rading books, but if one team is going to use them in a championship event, believe that I am buying them for my players. That being said, these books take most of the learned skill out of the player’s hands.

Green reading is a learned art and a huge part of successful putting. The green-reading book is a huge cheat sheet for golfers. I dare say that anyone who has a reasonable putting stroke can be assisted tremendously by using these, although I believe that these books greatly take away a critical part of the game, and that is the learned art of reading greens. Check out the accompanying graphic above. It is from the green-reading book of the 15th green at Duran Golf Club. This is the course where Central Alabama Community College won the 2019 NJCAA National Championship. To quickly explain: The upper green displays the green in 5-yard increments (using the larger grid). The numbers reflect the percentages of uphill to downhill slope. The more colorful illustration in green and red with arrows too easily shows where the green breaks hard in a direction (in red) or slightly (in green), and the arrows show the direction in which the ball will break. 

I wouldn’t be very upset if the PGA Tour and USGA both took these aids out of competitive golf. It’s like a middle linebacker complaining because the quarterback didn’t earlier inform him that he was running a deep route passing play.

One of the biggest gripes in the game of golf is the time it takes to play the game. I promise, the additional information aids given to players has done nothing but slow the game down and decreased the amount of imagination needed to play the game well. 

I would dearly love to watch a golf tournament where the top 125 Tour players played with persimmon woods and forged irons, all using steel shafts, a golf ball that performs like a Titleist 384 in either 100 or 90 compression. No other yardage markers other than 150-yard bushes, no hole location sheets, no course layout books and absolutely no green-reading books. Let’s see who the best thinker, most imaginative ball striker, green reader, putter and shot-maker truly is. For me, this would be a tournament that I would love to watch from start to end. I have to imagine that those early great players like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Byron Nelson would all smile if they were still around. I have strong suspicion that I may never see this tournament played, but a guy can dream, right?

See you on the first tee.

~ Dave Jennings is the men’s golf coach for the Central Alabama Community College Trojan Golf team.