Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shorter, not longer.

The short par-four 10th at Blackhawk.
It's no secret the game's governing bodies lost control of regulating playing equipment many years ago now. As a result, the best golfers are driving the ball way too far these days.

The search for new back tees at existing courses is rampant. And, the "7,000 yards standard" is quickly becoming 8,000 yards. Pete Dye just opened a new course at French Lick Resort, in Indiana, that measures an astonishing 8,100 yards from the back markers! 

But, is blatant length always the correct response to the threat of 400-yard drives? I don't think so.

The biggest issue with building 8,000-yard courses are the associated costs. The longer the course, the wider it needs to be. So developers have to purchase more land and spend more money to construct longer courses that are also appropriately wide. A bigger course costs more to maintain, too. This all translates into higher green fees and club dues, which is no good for the future of golf.

Moreover, length doesn't really present challenge to top-notch players. If we look at recent professional events at Royal Melbourne, TPC Boston and Plainfield for example, it's the short holes that have been most interesting.

During the Presidents Cup, many players couldn't resist trying to drive the greens at Royal Melbourne's fantastic short par-four holes. This frequently brought them more trouble than if they had played a more conservative tee shot. At TPC Boston, an annual stop on the PGA Tour, Gil Hanse has taken hundreds of yards off a course originally designed by Arnold Palmer's design company, including creation of the wonderful 298-yard par-four 4th hole. Hanse also recommended shortening Plainfield's finishing hole from a ho-hum driver/wedge affair to sub-300 yards during the Barclay's, which provided great theatre at one of the season-ending FedEx Cup events earlier this year. 

It's not all about the pros, either. My younger brother, who's won three club championships at Essex Golf and Country Club in recent years, confirms that the par-four 2nd hole at our home course can be much more challenging, and certainly more interesting for the club's best golfers when the tee markers are at 296 instead of 326 yards. The temptation to try for the green when the tee markers are up enhances the psychological challenge of the hole and brings more trouble around the green into play off the tee.

The 305-yard 10th hole at Blackhawk Golf Club (pictured) is similar. I've seen more 6s made by guys driving into the tiny pot bunker in front of the green than by those who've laid back in the fairway off the tee. If this hole was 30 yards longer, the urge to drive the green would be non-existent. Instead, it would be a comparatively dull 3-wood/wedge every time out.

Variety is key. We need short holes, long holes and all of those that fall in the middle of this spectrum. And we certainly need to ensure that the concept of a long par-four remains part of golf - that is, presenting the challenge of approaching a green from the fairway with a long club. But lengthening every hole possible in response to ever-improving ball and club technologies is not advisable; at least in part because so few excellent short par-fours have been built recently. Why? It's not easy to have the scorecard read 7,527 yards with a 298-yarder out there.  

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