With the PGA Tour in Hawaii, we’ve got grain on the brain and so should you when playing bermuda greens
By Jon Levy
Jordan Spieth’s 30-under-par effort last week on the PGA Tour made Kapalua look easy. But for many not accustomed to warm-climate courses, the strong, durable blades of bermudagrass can create short-game havoc and confusion in your golf game.
As a native Michigander most at home on bentgrass courses, I’ve always understood this first-hand and worked hard through years of competitive golf in bermuda-dominated areas to get comfortable. So, if you’re like me and could use some ‘Golf Tips 101’ in this area, here are three keys to know the next time you tee it somewhere like Kapalua (wouldn’t we all be so lucky!):
1. The direction of grain between your ball and the hole.
If the grass appears shiny or light, it means the grain is with or growing away from you, and if the grass appears dull or dark, it means it’s against or growing toward you. If it’s hard to detect at first sight, peek into the cup or at the edge of the green or fringe, which should more easily give this away.
2. How grain affects the ball.
Long story short, hit the ball MUCH harder than you think is needed on into-the-grain putts and chips, and MUCH easier than you think is needed on down-grain putts and chips. As opposed to most northern courses with bent or poa annua grasses, the strong bermuda blade has a greater influence on the ball. This means green speeds can vary immensely with grain direction, and can likewise influence break more or less than expected with cross-grain putts and chips.
3. Adjust to the grain when chipping or pitching.
You may have read our article on when to ditch your high-lofted wedges around the green, but that strategy may differ between bermuda and bent golf courses. Shots you may normally bump and run through the apron, fringe or fairway can get stopped in their tracks or take unexpected bounces, and the ball can stop quicker or roll out longer than expected with higher-lofted shots. With into-the-grain chips and pitches, specifically, your club can also get caught up – or stuck– in the strong grass much easier, so focus on good acceleration through the shot. The main idea is to combine Nos. 1 and 2 and adjust accordingly. This means a 56-degree wedge with more airtime could be the play instead of a lower-lofted bump through the apron, and that you may need to adjust where you’d normally think to land your shots in general.
DISCLAIMER: The effect of grain at higher-end courses (like Kapalua and Waialae) is often much less than at lower-end courses, because of better maintenance practices and more advanced, genetically-enhanced grounds. So, while these tips still do apply in most cases on bermuda, the thicker, more sideways-laying grass often prevalent on lower-end courses is really where you’ll see the difference. The bottom line is that, no matter where you are, it’s wise to spend a few extra minutes putting and chipping before you play to assess this and adapt.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Watch players around the greens at the Sony Open this weekend and see if you can notice the grain’s effect on roll and bounce, as well as differing grass colors. And, as always, talk to your local Certified Personal Coach who can help you understand these tips in detail for a fantastic golf season in 2016!