Lengthy rounds more of a menace than long putters
Attention must be paid to tradition when the US Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient come to the table. But the ruling bodies of golf are like a blended family at Thanksgiving, paying homage to the old ways even as everybody tucks into the turkey and steamed artichokes.
The proposed rule change to bar golfers from anchoring clubs appeased purists, but what about other developments that are wrenching the game from its roots?
Players using drivers with metal club heads the size of grapefruits to hit balls designed for long-distance travel are turning some of the world’s most venerable layouts into exquisitely maintained miniature golf courses.
Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, acknowledged on Wednesday that the sport’s governing bodies were tracking the distance that shots were traveling. “We want to quantify if one day there was a need to reduce distance,” he said in a conference call, adding: “We want to understand what reduced distance might mean.”
How about less course maintenance, less time to complete a round, less strain on a course’s capacity?
Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the RA, said his organisation and the USGA issued a joint statement a decade ago saying they were prepared to take action if distances increased any more. “Distances have actually plateaued since then,” he said at the same conference call.
The PGA Tour statistics tell another story. In 1997, the 50th-ranked player averaged 272.3 yards. By 2002, the distance had risen to 285.0. In 2012, it was 294.7.
Mark Cokewell, an amateur who founded a company that makes long putters, said that he hit the ball farther using today’s high-tech clubs but that he also took longer to play because his drives, while prodigious, were seldom straight.
If the mandate of the game’s guardians is to act today with an eye toward the future, as Davis said, why aren’t they worried about the viability of courses that eclipse airfields in acreage to accommodate the new generation of golfers and golf technology?
“The holes haven’t been made smaller or the greens changed because of people putting,” Adam Scott told reporters recently at the Australian Masters.
“Yet tees are moving a long way back and courses are made obsolete because of other technologies.”
Scott suggested that lengthy rounds were more of a menace to the game’s health than long putters like the one he used. Scott had a clear bias, but he made a good point. This year, the top pros completed the first two legs of a 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon in less time than the best golfers took to make one loop of the 7,170-yard US Open course.