The modern putter evolved from very light wooden shafted wooden head putters with 10 or more degrees of loft (sometimes a lot more than 10 degrees). Many golfers would carry two “putters”; one with about 10 degrees of loft for putting very near the hole itself; and a second, with 12 to 15 degrees of loft, for putting from distances of 30, 50 or even 80 yards from the hole.
Greens in the 19th century were cut with scythes to a height that would be similar to our fairways and tees today. The invention of the lawn mower in 1830 by Edwin Budding in England enabled important changes in golf course maintenance.
Historical Green Speeds in the USA
By the early 20th century, putting greens were being mowed to 3/8” in height.
By the end of the roaring 20’s, green mowers had developed into specialized equipment, and mowing heights were a little tighter. Putter loft began to decrease; but the Calamity Jane putter used by Bobby Jones to win his Grand Slam in 1930 still had 8 degrees of loft. Between 1930 and 1980, greens steadily improved; but the “fast” greens of today still did not exist.
The Stimpmeter, invented by Eddie Stimpson, was used by the USGA in 1977 to measure 581 courses nationwide to benchmark the speed of American greens. Here is a sampling of what was found:
These were America’s finest courses; the averages courses and “muni’s” were more typically in the range of 4 to 6 feet.
While the loft of putters began to decrease as the mowing height on the greens was reduced and green speeds increased, the loft of standard putters remained quite high.
Green Speed, Cut Height and Putter Weight Evolution
The steady decrease in mowing height and loft, and the increase in green speed and putter weight is
evident in the table below:
The Myth of the Nested Ball
It has for many years been “common knowledge” that some loft is required on a putter to lift the ball out of the depression in the grass that it was sitting in. This was likely true for Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer; but is no longer true today.
A famous putter designer in his current putter fitting guide states that his “Putter Studio research shows that a ball pushes down slightly into the grass on a green, and that 3.5o loft is needed to lift the ball up and on to the surface for a smooth roll.” He is not alone. This statement could have been made by any of hundreds of top teachers.
But the ball is no longer sitting in a deep depression in the grass on a putting green today.
In addition to the evidence from historical developments on the putting green, new research is pointing toward lower loft.
The growing use of launch monitor metrics has confirmed that less loft, higher weight and higher MOI are more consistent on today’s faster greens.