The late, great Rick Fraser, when he was writing golf in Toronto, would often crack a joke, accompanied by his familiar growl, that making golf equipment that adds distance for recreational golfers just means that the ball will go farther into the woods.
There are, however, those who believe that technology will one day or has already made some golf courses obsolete.
It’s been an argument going on for years going back to the hot face controversy in drivers, such as the infamous ERC that, for a period of time, alienated Arnold Palmer from the USGA when he dared suggest the ERC be used by recreational golfers out for weekend rounds with their buddies.
Thankfully, that awkward relationship didn’t last long and the King was returned to his rightful place as one of the game’s great ambassadors in his final years.
Another of those great ambassadors, Jack Nicklaus, was speaking at the HSBC Golf Business Forum on Tuesday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he zeroed in on the golf ball as a big reason for golf courses closing in the U.S.
You can read more in this story from MSN.
The Golden Bear says that because of the distance the ball travels these days, golf courses have had to change in order to adjust. Instead of forcing golf courses to add length, he suggests golf balls be tailored to each individual course.
All due respect to the great man himself, but where do I begin?
I guess with the scorecards I’ve seen, both my own and others, that would hardly prompt a golf course owner to somehow think his or her golf course needs to be elongated, which would be a huge overreaction.
Even if recreational golfers were regularly bombing it, there are other less costly ways of dealing with the problem, such as tightening up the fairways or speeding up greens, but to draw new people to the game, making golf courses more difficult isn’t the answer and neither is rolling back the golf ball.
I’ve always understood Nicklaus’ concern with the golf ball at the tour level because hey, these guys are good, right? If a golf course does host a tour event, it’s usually for a week out of the year and for most, not at all. Then, it’s handed back to the people who hardly make golf course designers weak at the knees.
There may be talented amateurs in that group, those who play club championships or provincial or national championships, but mostly it’s recreational types and, at this point, golf seems to be falling back into its traditional attitude of what’s good for the tour is good for everybody.
With recreational players, particularly those valued people who are just beginning to take up the game, you want to make the experience as positive as possible and rolling back the ball or making the golf course more grueling is not the way to do it.
Nicklaus mentions the expense of the game, but how expensive would golf balls get if manufacturers had to produce a different golf ball for each golf course to stay in business?
Would green grass shops actually stop selling the golf balls we’re used to now? If they did, would consumers buy their traditional golf balls at off-course retailers or would the manufacturers be told they can’t make those products anymore, something that would surely lead to lawsuits?
How would golf courses enforce the use of a specific golf ball? Would they actually be checking and, if a paying customer or member got caught using a non-club ball, what would be the punishment in a recreational round?
Ejection? That would take, pardon the expression, balls to do.
The above-mentioned points have been mentioned in previous equipment debates such as anchored putters and hot-faced drivers as they apply to recreational players, so golf continues to spin its wheels with such discussions.
Sure, it all sounds over the top, but when you’re talking about golf courses closing, you’re not talking the absence of high-level players, who will always be there, you’re talking the missing masses who might already be starting in the game, some who might be interested in taking it up, or those who need a reason to consider it.
Either way, rolling back the golf ball or lengthening the golf course is not the answer.
There are so many things to consider when it comes to golf course closings, not the least of which is fairways turning into housing developments.
Chatting with Jeff Calderwood, CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association who spearheaded Golf Awareness Day for the National Allied Golf Associations on Parliament Hill earlier this week, he acknowledges that the game is still looked upon as elitist, which leads the uninitiated to believe the game is out of reach for them.
It isn’t always the game itself that leads to people playing less golf or none at all. Taxes, stagnating salaries, the high cost of housing and rising prices at the grocery store are taking huge bites out of disposable income these days.
As much as we want to get into yet another technology issue, the golf ball is the last thing anybody is thinking about when deciding to play a round with buddies.