With no golf for nine hours, the gusting winds at St. Andrews are getting all the publicity on Saturday at the British Open. There's nothing to show so the highlights are balls being blown off the green, an attempt to pour water into a cup, and cameras blowing around the Old Course. It makes for quick and fascinating clips and a simple conclusion that this is just a day of extreme wind that rendered the course unplayable. But it goes a little deeper than that and Saturday's delay is putting the entire operation of modern tournaments and the golf industry itself under scrutiny.
The high winds make the course unplayable because the greens have been cut too short and can't hold the ball still. The greens were cut too short so they would run fast and be in perfect condition for a major championship test. The modern technology in a golf ball, and to a lesser extent, with clubs, have driven many of these top flight tournaments to hype up the speed of their greens because distance off the tee is making everything else that's supposed to be challenging at these events obsolete.
There's a ripple effect here and most of it goes back to the modern super-charged golf ball that flies 300 and 350 yards off many of theses pros' drivers. ESPN reports from the course indicated that the greens are running a "10" on the stimpmeter. The stimpmeter sounds like some fancy device that measures green speed, but it's a pretty rudimentary tool -- an official puts a ball on an angled ramp and however many feet it rolls out on a flat part of the green is its reading.
A 10 reading is actually on the slower side for American courses that host professional and major tournaments. They often run around 12 and Oakmont, reputed to have some of the fastest greens in the world, can even get in the 13 to 15 range. But a 10 on a links course in Scotland is very quick, and when the wind gets like this, it becomes unplayable. At nearby Crail Golf Club, and reportedly everywhere else in the area, they are playing today.
For what it is worth they have been playing golf at Crail Golf Club up the road from St Andrews all day.— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) July 18, 2015
Those greens aren't running a 10 on the stimpmeter. Links courses should run a 6, 7, or 8 up on the greens. But these are too tight and quick to keep the balls in place when it starts gusting the way it has all day Saturday.
Dottie Pepper (who has been awesome for ESPN all week -- can we please get her calling more events?) spent much of the day out on the Old Course's most affected green, the 11th. This is the most exposed hole of the course and the one that held up everything else during that 30-minutes of actual play on Saturday morning. Nothing would stay and even at the safer spots on the green, the ball was oscillating when a player would address it with his putter.
In addition to all that work demonstrating how the balls are flying off the green at 11, Pepper also fired this incisive tweet at the conditions.
3 straight majors stopped at St. Andrews because of wind. Golf played here for hundreds of yrs. What does it say about modern green speeds?— Dottie Pepper (@DottieandBogey) July 18, 2015
The Old is an exposed piece of property. And has been for centuries. Only in the last decade has it affected putting https://t.co/uMKFhUGLcx— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) July 18, 2015
So there's much more than just some extreme seaside wind in play here. The R&A wants these greens running quick so they're a challenge and the winning score is not 20-under. They need to be faster because the ball is flying farther than ever, rendering many parts of decades-old and centuries-old courses obsolete.
Some are positing this disaster of a day may be a crossroads in this debate and the eventual rolling back of golf ball technology. It's certainly another exhibit for that argument.
SB Nation video archives: The toughest holes in all of golf (2014)