Grass varieties are tested at
the Asian Turfgrass Center’s research facility near Bangkok.
Ever wondered why certain putts don’t behave the way you
expect? Why the pace of some greens appear fast, yet one hole later the pace
slows significantly? What is it about putting surfaces in the tropics
compared to the temperate climates of much of Europe, North America and
Australasia? And why do local caddies say “Lohm” (down) or “Khung” (up) when
there is no slope to be seen?
The answer is grass, or to be more exact, grain.
Grain refers to the direction grass grows, or more
precisely, the angle at which the blades of grass tend to lie. Grain can and
does have a huge impact on the speed of the putt, especially with the types
of Bermuda grass used in tropical climates. It will also influence
direction. Some courses are more “grain obvious” than others whereas courses
using thinner-bladed grasses on their putting surfaces have grain that is
less apparent to the naked eye – but is there nonetheless.
The direction of the setting sun, nearby mountains or
water is irrelevant. Over here, there is one simple way to read grain;
simply walk up to the hole you are playing and look in – it should tell you
all you need know. Look at the inside rim of the hole – the cut-line where
the edge meets the surface of the green. You will notice one-third of the
hole’s circumference is ragged. Directly opposite this point is smooth by
comparison. The ragged look is caused by the grass’s tendency to grow and
fray. If your ball is on the same side of the hole as this rough and ragged
portion, you are putting into the grain. If your ball is located opposite,
on the smooth-cut side, you are putting down-grain. The difference in
putting speed between down-grain (lohm – sounds like loom), and up-grain
(khung), is massive.
When putting cross-grain, expect the ball’s route to be
influenced by the direction of the grain, especially when your ball slows as
it approaches the hole.
Tell-tale signs around the hole at some courses may not
be as obvious as others. If you can’t tell by looking at the rim of the cup
– and I would be surprised – check the fringe – the grass on the edge of the
green. Sometimes this grass is sufficiently long where you can see the
direction of the grain simply by looking at it. This method works best mid
to late afternoon, whereas the rim of the cup can tell all from early in the
How do you handle a downhill putt that is also
Many courses in Thailand will give you this very
challenge. The one thing you don’t want is to putt short as that is the
worst possible outcome. The speed of your putt should be determined by two
things – the length of your back-swing and where on the putter-face you hit
All putts, whether uphill, downhill or level, should be
hit with an accelerating putter-head. If faced with a particularly fast
putt, where you simply want to get the ball started on line, you can hit it
following a short back-swing, or instead of the sweet-spot, use the toe of
your putter. Whatever method is chosen, it is still a hit. Never use a
Now back to your 25-footer, downhill and down-grain; how
do you get this ball to stop? It’s possible that you can’t, so try not to
worry about it. Just ensure you do not leave it short by any distance
greater than 18 inches. Using the toe of your putter does have a dampening
effect, but practise it first. Personally, when faced with this type of
putt, where length dominates line, I focus solely on the feel of my right
hand giving the ball a gentle tap. Normally, my hands apply equal pressure
in my putting stroke, but not when putting downhill and down-grain. As with
putting generally, it is whatever works best for you. There is no right or
wrong way regarding grip, stance or swing, so long as the ball is struck
squarely with an accelerating putter-head.
Effective putting in Thailand is absolutely dependent on
reading greens correctly. A major part of this is to determine grain
direction and the effect it has on line and length, particularly length.
Achieve this and your total putts per round will drop.
How sure am I about all of this?
As any good caddie will tell you, “Ha sip, ha sip.”