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Mike Morris, CGCS Receives GAM Superintendent Award of Merit at Annual Meeting

Published on 5/8/2023

The following is the introduction given by Dr. Thom Nikoali at the GAM Annual Meeting where Mike Morris, CGCS received his award of merit.

The Golf Association of Michigan Superintendent Award of Merit is an honor bestowed upon a superintendent who has demonstrated leadership, professionalism, good character, and high standards of conduct through pursuits associated with golf course grounds maintenance and care. Due to reasonable time constraints, I can share but one story about Mike Morris CGCS Crystal Downs Country Club, and why he is deserving of this award, but to detail the significance of his contributions to the game, I must start at the end of the 19th century. 

In 1899 the balata golf ball replaced the gutta golf ball and because the balata rolled truer on the putting surface the term “green speed” was created.

In 1931 Crystal Downs Country Club designed by golf course architects Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, opens for play.

In 1937 Edward Stimpson invented the Stimpmeter because “it occurred to us there was no way of measuring green speed”.

In 1975, USGA Green Section Director Al Radko asked USGA Technical Director Frank ­Thomas to create a device to measure green speed. Thomas tinkered with several designs but eventually modified Edward Stimpson’s Stimpmeter. 

In 1976 and 1977 the USGA surveyed more than 1500 greens in the USA. The average green speed was 6’6”.   Many of the courses you play on have fairways that are faster than that.

In 1978, with great fanfare, the USGA gave a Stimpmeter to the superintendent at every USGA member club. In 1979 articles were being written by the USGA with titles like “Stimpmeter, friend or foe?” which were followed with warnings of “Speed Kills” and misplaced advice stating, “you have to get your members to lower their expectations”.

In 1982 Mike Morris earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University.

In 1986 Mike earned his master’s degree in English while working on his 2-year turfgrass certificate at
MSU.  For his internship, Mike choose to stay in his hometown of Frankfort MI because he could get free lodging while he worked at Crystal Downs Country Club.

In 1987 Mike earned his 2-year turfgrass certificate and accepted the position of Golf Course Superintendent at Crystal Downs Country Club. 

In 2001continual arguments regarding the speed of greens made it uncomfortable for Crystal Downs Country Club Green Chairman David Rosenberger to go into the clubhouse.  In a greens committee meeting Dave asked Mike two questions:

  1. What are our green speeds from day to day and
  2. What is the perfect green speed for our greens?

At the time, Mike did not know the answer to the questions, so he set on a path to find them. The answer of the first question was easy to obtain, and Mike began to take daily green speed measurements.  The second question “What is the perfect green speed for our greens” had eluded everyone since the words green and speed were joined.  Not to be detoured, Mike invented a blind survey called the Morris Method which encouraged member participation in determining the “Ideal Green Speed” for Crystal Downs Country Club.  By the way, Mike was too humble to name the survey after himself, so I did. 

The Morris Method was successful at determining the ideal speed range for the course and with that piece of information Mike developed a 4-step model to manage greens and golfer expectations.

In February of 2003, Mike shared his management story in a panel discussion at the GCSAA “International Golf Course and Show”.  As a result, his model was written about in the May issue of Golf Course News in an editorial column titled “Morris Stimpmeter study reveals optimum speed”.

In February of 2004 Mike co-hosted a 4-hour school called Taking Control of Green Speed that was sold out and attended by the likes of golfers such as Dave Pelz.  In a room of over 100 golf course superintendents and consultants from around the world an opening question was, “How many of you take green speed measurements on your greens everyday”?  At most one hand was raised, and the majority of the audience thought the best use of the Stimpmeter was as a door stop or as one superintendent put it “to kill snakes.”

In September of 2004 Frank Rossi wrote an article in Golfweek’s SuperNews called Industry Needs Greens Performance Standards stating, “Morris’ approach is novel, and one the USGA should embrace”. 

In 2005 Mike’s school went to eight hours and at the end of the school participants answered a survey.  The final question of the survey was, “What would you do to improve this school”?  The number one response was, “more time” and the second had to do with increasing lunch options.

Following every school came numerous emails like, “I couldn’t help but think of you and your green speed program this afternoon after opening an envelope from the RCGA that included a poster that claims in bold letters SPEED KILLS. I assume they wanted us to post that in the club house. I however, immediately filed it in the appropriate recycling bin. I feel so much more confident and knowledgeable with green speed issues, and I owe you a big thanks for helping get me there. Sincerely, James Beebe Golf Course Manager Priddis Greens Golf & Country Club Alberta Canada”

At a meeting in Naples FL Rick Tatum, Director of GC Operations Grey Oaks Country Club, made it abundantly clear that he was uneasy implementing Mike’s advice with his members. Two weeks later Rick emailed “I feel strongly that everyone in this industry should understand what you have to say and how beneficial it could be to them and their courses. The information Mike presented was specific and unemotional. I can't think of a better way to communicate to my Membership and Employee's. I have a new excitement when it comes to Green Speed on my course. I arrived at my office the next day and immediately implemented a program that has already had benefits. Thank you for the motivation.”

In 2012 the GCSAA had an on-line member survey that asked, “Please rank the top 10 changes that have improved the game of golf at your facility(s)* within the past 25 years”. There were over 30 categories to choose from and “Green speed management” came in at number 6. The worst management strategy of all time, “get your members to lower their expectations” was dead.

In 2013 Mike retired his school. Almost every superintendent in the final class were taking green speed measurements on a daily basis, had an ideal green speed range, and utilized a version of Mike’s 4-step model to “manage greens and golfer expectations”. Mike Morris took a problem, created a solution, and not only improved customer satisfaction at Crystal Downs Country Club, but in sharing his solution improved putting surfaces and customer satisfaction around the world.  In closing, Mike became golf course superintendent at Crystal Downs Country Club in 1987 and since 1989 Crystal Downs Country Club has been ranked as one of the Greatest 100 golf courses, as well as “Best in State” from 1989-93 and from 2003-2022.  I yield the podium to Mike Morris, CGCS, Crystal Downs Country Club.



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