The real history of Edward Stimpson's special gift: The Stimpmeter

The real history of Edward Stimpson's special gift: The Stimpmeter

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The real history of Edward Stimpson's special gift: The Stimpmeter

OAKMONT, PA. — It would require a little bit of space on the walls inside this museum called Oakmont Country Club — and given the exhaustive Hall of Fame moments that have occurred here, there’s little room left.

But if said space could be found, may we suggest a plaque of some sort, proclaiming that “Eddie was not here — he only used what happened here to benefit golf.”

Apologies would be offered, of course, to all those authors through the years who had suggested otherwise in their copy, but to tell the story of the late Edward Stimpson, we would like to start with a serious bit of editing.

First, just a sample of what we’ve read in various stories through the years as to how this Harvard graduate came to invent the famous “Stimpmeter:”

    • A 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story: “During the 1935 Open championship at Oakmont, Edward Stimpson watched from the gallery … “
    • Wikipedia: “Edward Stimpson, Sr., the Massachusetts amateur champion and a former Harvard golf team captain … was a spectator at Oakmont in 1935 … ”

Now, the serious editing that needs to be made: Stimpson was not at Oakmont that year.

Who says? His son says. “My brother John was born Sept. 9, 1935. There is no way my father would leave my pregnant mother alone six months pregnant to go to the U.S. Open,” said Edward S. Stimpson III.

Stimpson further explained that his father, who died in 1985 at the age of 80, faced a serious “bank failure” and wouldn’t have gone to Oakmont.

Like his father was, Stimpson is a Massachusetts resident, a golf fan, and interested in the “Stimpmeter.” It’s just that on this last part, the son’s passion for setting the record straight and bringing recognition to his father’s invention pushed him to write a book.

OK, it’s more a booklet of information and it was never intended to be the Great American Novel. But it has a title — “The Stimpmeter: Forty-one Years From Invention to Convention” — and it involves painstaking research.

Urged by friends to seek a patent when he invented the Stimpmeter in 1936, Edward Stimpson wouldn’t hear of it. In 1963 he wrote in a letter to the USGA: “This is a labor of love and not for profit. If there is anything I can do to make golf a better game, I will be glad to do it.”

To understand the Stimpmeter and what was behind Stimpson’s motives is to appreciate how it has benefited golf greatly. But first, some praise for the man who left this great gift to golf.

• • •

Stimpson grew up playing golf at Brae Burn Country Club, a classic Donald Ross design that hosted the 1919 U.S. Open won by Walter Hagen.

Brae Burn, based in Newton, Mass., was Ross at his best — greens with consistent slopes, much of them back to front, and golfers who had any sort of polish on their games knew to keep it below the hole. Stimpson, for instance. He was captain of his Harvard team and winner of the Massachusetts State Amateur in 1935.

That he triumphed at his home club, Brae Burn, for that state title was no surprise; Stimpson was a student of putting greens, of the putting stroke, of the putting mindset.

“He had missed an 18-inch putt in the finals of the New England Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club in 1926,” said his son. “After that, he would never give a putt. I played a lot of golf with him and never heard, ‘That’s good.’ He was scarred (by 1926).”

But so, too, was Edward Stimpson Jr. convinced that putting was dependent upon a knowledge of green speeds and in the 1930s they were inconsistent. He also became a member at The Country Club (in Brookline, Mass.) and played a lot of amateur tournaments. Stimpson knew that while golfers couldn’t expect the speed of the greens from course to course to be the same, he felt strongly that a uniform measuring system could be implemented.

He took it upon himself to find it, ascending to his basement to work with wood and mathematical equations.

“He was very analytical,” said his son. “He wanted to figure out a way to putt complicated greens.”

Hearing the stories coming out of Oakmont in 1935 made Stimpson even more determined. He knew and admired Gene Sarazen and felt the game did not need exceedingly fast greens. That he came up with his original Stimpmeter in 1936 was a moment of satisfaction; that it took until 1977 to be put into use by the USGA was not colored in frustration.

“For all those years my father was in constant touch with men on the USGA executive committee, many of them members at The Country Club,” said his son. “He was corresponding with a lot of people in golf. They knew what the Stimpmeter was and many times it was put in use.”

It just wasn’t official, even if Stimpson did go to Massachusetts Golf Association events and some USGA events and measure the green speeds with his device. He would roll a ball down a wooden device that was held approximately 15 inches off the ground. He measured how far the ball rolled.

Stimpson’s passion for adopting a measurement of green speeds was never meant to get putting surfaces faster. In fact, “he used to sit in his chair and watch the Masters,” said his son. “He would time putts, do his mathematical work, and I remember him telling Hord Hardin (then the Chariman of Augusta National) that ‘your greens are too fast.’ ”

No surprise given Augusta’s commitment to secrecy, but “Hardin told my father, ‘We do not keep track of green speeds.’ ”

Unknown to Hardin, information kept on green speeds at Augusta was being relayed to Stimpson, who was even more adamant in his quest when he saw he was right.

In 1977 Frank Thomas of the USGA took the Stimpmeter out of moth balls, tweaked it, and the “USGA Speedstick” was born. If Stimpson were offended, he never said so. But when a member at The Country Club and one of Stimpson’s loyal supporters, Arthur Rice, insisted the device be renamed the “Stimpmeter,” vindication had arrived.

Even better, so did some well-earned publicity, and for the last three years of his life, Edward Stimpson was treated to much praise.

The game, meanwhile, was treated to the man’s special gift.

– Jim McCabe

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