The Physics of Different Playing Surfaces (Basic)

Sports, such as tennis and golf, require athletes to be versatile on several different types of playing surface. These different course and court textures developed because of regional climate and resources available to the builders at the time.


The grass used in seeding a golf course depends on the climate where the course is located and the area of the golf course where it is used. For cooler areas such as the northern United States, bentgrass is used. This type of turf is used for fairways rather than the putting surface because it does not adapt well to being cut short. Bermuda grass is very common in the south because it thrives in the hot humid atmosphere. It can adapt to low mowing heights and thus can be used on tee boxes, greens, and fairways. In addition, Kentucky Blue grass can be used for fairways in most locations and zoysia grass is used in fairways. Finally, poa anna grass is perfect for the greens in cool damp climates such as Pebble Beach in Northern California.

Before starting a round, it is very important for a golfer to understand what surface he is playing on. The ball will act quite different on each type of surface. For example, a golfer is able to put more back spin on the ball in zoysia grass than he would Bermuda grass. This is because zoysia has a more firm blade that holds the ball higher allowing the golfer to strike the ball with more of the club’s surface area. When this increased surface area impacts the ball, more of the grooves on the club head grip the dimples on the ball and cause the additional spin. Back spin is important because it allows the golfer to stop the ball on a specific point on the green without rolling off.

The grass used for putting greens is extremely important for reading the movement of the ball and sinking the putt. Creeping bentgrass is the ideal surface for a green because it can be mowed very low and grows in a dense pack. It is necessary which way the grass is growing. This is also called the grain. The grain of a putting green depends on the movement of the sun, temperature, and water drainage on the green. A putt against the grain, meaning the grass is growing towards you, will be slower than a putt with the grass growing away from you because the grass will attempt to grab the ball, increasing the friction and slowing the ball speed. The grain can also increase the movement, or break, of a putt depending on the ball’s position on the green.

By: Kenny Morley, Ohio State University 


Merritt, C. (2010). Comparison of Tennis Court Surfaces. Retrieved from

Moorehouse, J. (2006). The Types of Grass and What It Means to Your Game. Retrieved from Means-to-Your-Game&id=188396

Articles by Kenny Morley.

This entry was posted in and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.