Do Greens Books Slow the Pace, or Improve It?

This is a note I sent to the R&A, about their discussion of “greens books”, and the detailed contours they display for a green.

Hello, R& A!

I’d like to make a comment regarding the use of a “greens book”. The theory has been advanced that outlawing them would improve speed of play. But I suspect the reverse would be true, and want to explain my thinking.

It does make sense to outlaw the greens book while ON the green. That would achieve the goal of ensuring that “green reading” does not become a lost art form. It would also ensure that a professional putts with the same information that we amateurs have.

And perhaps it should be outlawed from chipping distance close to the green, for the same reason.

But the REAL advantage of the greens book is the ability to pick a landing area for a pitch or approach shot.

I remember one televised PGA event where the caddy and player were having a discussion about 150-yard shot over water, and the announcer said, “they’re trying to decide where to pitch it on the green”.

Pitch it? Are you kidding me? They’re THAT accurate? Well maybe they are. If not from 150 yards, then certainly from 110 yards. Or 100, or 80. CERTAINLY when pitching from 40 yards. Heck, even I am that accurate, at times.

In other words, FOR SOME SIGNIFICANT DISTANCE from the green, any decent player is choosing their landing area on the green. To do that, they have to know which way the green is sloping.

Now then, let’s say that greens books are outlawed. There are two options. One is to walk up to the green and walk back. The other is to rely on notes your caddy took about the contours of the green.

Now, as an amateur player who drags my own clubs around the course or sets them on a cart, I am already miffed that professional players have caddies who monitor wind conditions, elevation changes, and the like, and feed that information to the player on the course — while I, as a solo player, can’t even use a FREE APP to take elevation changes and the weather report’s wind information into account.

Personally, I would LIKE an app that displays arrows, to show me which way the green slopes, so I can pick a landing area when I’m close enough to do so. At the very least, I’d like to know whether to prefer left, right, front, or back. And I would like that app to be legal.

After all, the information of that kind is available to anyone who has a local caddy. Why shouldn’t it be available to anyone who has a cell phone?

But the more important point for this discussion is this: Given that a caddy can provide information to the player, the next question is, in what form can the caddy store that information?

Perhaps contour maps should be legal, but detailed slope-angles should not be. Perhaps arrows on the contour maps are good. But if so, can different length arrows be used to indicate the degree of slope?

Basically, what we have here is a “slippery slope”. If a caddy were to spend a weekend taking measurements of various greens, should they be disallowed from recording the information? Probably not. So the real question is, what information should a player be legally allowed to purchase?

Personally, I find the standard “greens book” too detailed to be of much use. When on the green, I trust my eyes. From off it, all I want is a quick way to choose my landing area. The million little arrows and numbers in a standard greens book are nothing but a distraction to me.

Of course, from any significant distance, using that information ALSO depends on knowing where the pin is. And that is yet another advantage that professional players have over us amateurs. Knowing front, middle, or rear for pin placement is a help, or course. And I can see if it’s left or right. But without knowing the general contours of the green, that information helps me only a little.

The professional, on the other hand, has a caddy that walked the course in the morning, so he knows PRECISELY where the pin is placed. And AT A MINIMUM, the professional has the caddy’s information about the contours of the green, whether in the form of local-knowledge memory or detailed notes.

So here’s the dilemma: We want green reading to remain an art, if for no other reason than it puts professionals and amateurs on more equal footing. On the other hand, someone with a greens book can compete on reasonably equal footing with someone who is familiar with the course, because it lets them pick a preferred landing area for a pitch or an approach. And it speeds up play when used for that purpose, because it doesn’t require someone to walk up, look, and walk back.

Personally, I think the middle ground looks like this:

  1. Allow diagrams that show “general contours” (ridge lines, for example, with arrows) but not “specific details” (like the exact slope angle from every point on the green.
  2. Allow them in printed “greens books” AND in mobile apps.

Such diagrams should speed up play from NEAR the green, without unduly affecting play while ON the green since, without a lot of detail, a player’s green-reading skill would be more valuable then general contours in a book.

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