Any time a group of golfers/golf administrators assembles, there is the inevitable discussion about the state of the game. This year’s conversations have been focused on the weather.
In Southern Ontario, not only is the number of rainy days an issue, the amount of rainfall is too.
Recently, a course near our home, Pike Lake Golf Club in Mount Forest, received six inches in less than 24 hours. Yes, a significant portion runs off’ into ponds and lakes, but low-lying areas are full and have been for most of the season.
When a heavy downpour occurs, the superintendent and maintenance staff are faced with monstrous re-construction projects in bunkers and drainage areas, not to mention the clean-up of fallen trees and branches.
These heavy deluges also shorten the life of under-ground drainage systems which can become clogged with excessive amounts of sand from bunkers and silt. None of it is good, except for an ample supply of water for irrigation.
Adding to the problems in Ontario is that we have had rain on at least four or five days a week, as well as multiple heavy storms on a regular basis.
Throughout the midwest of the United States, up the east coast and in central Canada, the weather has also been cooler and wetter than normal, so after a few years of ideal weather for golf, a mildly friendly economy and low interest rates, conversations are of doom and gloom.
One silver lining in golf conversations is that with the dominance of lousy weather, little is being said about the demise of the game due to shrinking participation. It’s been a while since I heard about foot golf.
I still hear/read much about the oversupply of courses resulting in deeply discounted green fees, but my belief is that if an owner can hang in there, changes to that scenario are coming.
I think a bigger problem confronting the growth of golf is that the game has changed from the one that existed for 400 years to a new one, beginning with the invention of the “new” ball.
Previously, new golfers dealt with learning how to swing and errant shots because the ball reacted to various swing paths and club face angles. Accomplished players developed their skills to a point where by they could control these reactions and use them to earn a low score.
Today, those skills are no longer required. First, the ball does not respond like the previous editions. It actually goes very straight and quite a bit higher.
What this means is the challenge to learn the delicate swing deviations is gone. All the creative twists and turns used to work a ball into scoring position are no longer required and I believe this is the most impactful reason the game is not growing.
Most influential people in the game who are trying desperately to figure outwhat went wrong” have concluded that the ball goes too far, which is causing designers to lengthen golf courses.
In turn, this makes additional playing surfaces that have to be maintained, adding to the cost to play. With additional length comes additional time to play because players now must walk or ride longer distances back to tee decks that, at one time, were originally located quite close to the next tee.
Then comes modern equipment. Because the ball goes straighter, drivers can be made to generate more clubhead speed. Mix in lighter products and you build drivers even longer to gain more speed and therefore more distance.
Today’s set of golf clubs is exactly that – a set, all perfectly matched and calibrated like a high powered rifle. They have one purpose and that is to fire a projectile in a straight line a precise distance.
Players apply the findings obtained by various means, insert a few physical measurements and out pops a perfectly manufactured golf club. The finest players in the world are accomplished enough to make an excellent reproduction of a swing speed time after time. Therefore, they hit shots that travel precise distances time after time.
Adding a ball that goes these exact distances to the fact that it flies much straighter and you have the next closest thing to a perfect storm for a talented player.
The final piece is the superbly manicured putting surfaces. They are immaculate, consistent and entirely negotiable and therefore, the need to hit shots close to the hole is reduced. Top players can sink putts from longer distances than ever before, resulting in their acceptance of shots finishing farther away from the hole than in past years.
The end product is that the game of golf is no longer the same! Players like Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, George Knudson, Bubba Watson, Corey Pavin and Bernhard Langer who play an old style of golf are on the brink of extinction.
Further, because of their styles, they rarely, if ever, take an actual lesson to discuss swing technique. The ball flight teaches them what they want to know. The other players have their swing coaches on speed dial where they report findings from computers. Information is digested and regurgitated in some form of Iron Byron performance chart.
The lessons simply re-calibrate the firing mechanism (the player) and away they go, just as good as new, but also in a way the average person cannot relate to and has little, if any, chance to replicate.
In my opinion, the distance the ball travels is not the problem. Let ‘er fly if you want and take your chances. I think the problem is the ball goes too straight.
Due to the approved aerodynamics. a golf ball requires far less swing ability to control the flight than previously needed. This allows for all the other innovations that have created prodigious distances to survive.
If the ball flew on a more flexible directional pattern, distance would be reined in by the players. In the same way the ruling bodies determined the speed the ball can travel as it comes off the clubface, they could also control the variance of the direction and/or the spin.
Another option might be to lower the weight of the ball slightly. This would cause the ball to float more and would cause it to fly off-line with less control.
There are other considerations they could make, such as limiting the configuration/size/depth of the dimples, controlling the dimple patterns or other aerodynamic features they are aware of, undoubtedly.
My point, and the point of many who are concerned about the future of the game, is simply that I doubt the golfing public would allow a of distance the ball travels because, in their minds, that would be a major cause of the lack of sustained growth.
All costs have gone up, the time to play has increased and the challenge is gone so the game is either boring or limited to a few who have the special talent to produce long drives – those who can’t achieve such distance drop out or don’t play as much.
There is a game called Frisbee Golf. I watched some boys play it in a public park full of families on a long weekend. They fired the frisbee so it curved up and over trees around buildings and across a stream.
The targets were garbage cans located up to 200 yards away, tree trunks, lamp posts etc. They could control the amount of draw or fade, the height and, of course, the distance. They had penalties for OB and water hazards. All they needed was a $5 frisbee and some open space, with no green fee and no cart.
They played match play, so no scorecard, no range finder, no lessons, no swing coach and 18 holes were played in about 30 minutes. It is a game requiring touch, imagination, creativity and skill, much like golf used to be when the golf ball curved in flight.
Not all technological changes in golf have been advancements. Most have changed the concept of the game from its artistic past. If we were to take a step back in time, the only thing I would miss the beverage cart.