Karen Stupples had an impressive career as a professional golfer. Today, she is one of the sport’s more respected broadcasters, having spent nine years with Golf Channel as an analyst and on-course reporter on LPGA telecasts.
Stupples is also a turf enthusiast, an interest that grew out of necessity.
“(Partner Jerry Foltz) and I would travel and the guy who was supposed to take care of our garden didn’t,” she tells Rick Woelfel on the Wonderful Women of Golf podcast. “And so, we’d come back to knee-high grass. It used to drive me nuts that you couldn’t cut it.
“I would go out there and mow and I’d be like, ‘This is kind of fun.’ Then after COVID hit, Jerry decided the little tractor mower wasn’t really getting the job done enough so we got a zero-turn mower.
“Needless to say, the guy that cuts grass doesn’t cut our grass anymore. I’ve taken control over all that. I need to delve a little deeper into the nuances a little better in terms of fertilizing it, of managing the grass and making sure it generates, and all the rest of that stuff. I’m just getting to grips with the cutting of it at the moment.”
Over the course of a 16-year professional career, Stupples won two LPGA tournaments, including a major championship, the 2004 Women’s Weetabix British Open. The Dover, England native also represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup on two occasions and competed for Europe in two Solheim Cups. Her experience as a player provides her with insights as to what tour-caliber players notice about a golf course.
“Obviously, the greens and the condition and the firmness of them,” she says, “and how they roll when you’re putting on them. And also, the grass on the fairways, too. Players love playing courses where the fairways kind of feel a bit like carpet and you can kind of brush the grass, brush the golf ball off of those surfaces or you can take perfect divots because it’s just the right consistency.
Players love playing courses where the fairways kind of feel a bit like carpet and you can kind of brush the grass, brush the golf ball off of those surfaces or you can take perfect divots because it’s just the right consistency.”
“I grew up on links golf, so that’s a very different type of grass and a very different type of soil underfoot, but there’s a firmness to it that creates a nice consistent feel when you’re playing, and I think you can get confidence in your game when you’re hitting off of turf like that.”
Stupples stuffers from ADD. As a result, much of her knowledge is acquired through observation, including her knowledge of turf.
“I notice stuff,” she says. “I see what the grass is doing. I like to look at where the grain is growing. A lot of courses have grain and that can affect shots into the green so, when I’m talking about the grain, if it’s a full shot, it can take as much as five yards off the distance for the player so you have to club up.
“And also, if you’re playing down the grain, you can get more spin and more clubhead speed. How a golf course superintendent mows the fairway can make a huge difference in (playability). So, when I’m commentating on it, that makes a big difference in what I talk about when I’m talking about how a player will approach a shot while they’re standing over it.”
After spending most of her life around golf, Stupples marvels at what superintendents accomplish.
“First off, they have to deal with Mother Nature,” she says. “They have no control over what Mother Nature will throw at them in any given year. So, they have to be very flexible with how they prepare the golf course. They have to have a plan in place.
“They know at certain times of the year they’re going to have to take cores out. There’s all kinds of maintenance issues they have to go through to keep everything in check.
‘(But) the biggest thing for me is the Mother Nature factor. They’ve got to be so flexible with it. They’ve got to register and look at what’s going on on the greens. They’ve got to know that they can’t let anything slide.
“The best way I can describe it is, you know the people that juggle plates? They put the plates on top of poles, and they spin the plates. They will start off at one pole and spin the plate, then move along to the next plate and then keep having to run down the line to keep the plates from falling, because if you neglect one area, the plates will fall. That’s what the greenskeepers do.”