Monday, April 30, 2012

(Absolutely) ridiculous.

Muirfield, East Lothian, Scotland (click to enlarge).
Photo courtesy of George Waters.
Last week's report that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, under the direction of chief executive Peter Dawson, established a fund to deliberately invest $16 million in 'toughening and tighening' courses on the Open rota (kinda) blew my mind. That's approximately $800,000 per course on the rota, according to Dawson.  

What's so shocking about this? First, the R&A (in conjunction with its counterpart on this side of the Atlantic - the United States Golf Association) is an organization with responsibility to 'govern' the game. Technically, part of that 'governance' responsibility involves regulating playing equipment. But instead of acting with significance on the never-ending distance issue, here we have the R&A (and USGA) 'toughening and tighening' many of the world's best courses for a single week of competition, in direct response to their own inabilities to keep the performance of clubs and (especially) balls under control. 

Frankly, the R&A and USGA have done a horrendous, almost non-existent job over the past two decades at regulating playing equipment - reportedly in fear of potential lawsuits from equipment manufacturers, who also have done the game no favours with their (seeming) unwillingness to work with the game's governing bodies on a solution to this problem.

The necessity of renovating courses to keep up with an unregulated golf ball that continues to travel out of control is an absolutely ridiculous path for golf to be on. Why? The threat posed by allowing the ball to travel further still, along with the example set by the R&A's 'toughening and tightening' campaign is quite easy to comprehend: Longer (and longer) courses require more land (remember, the longer the ball is permitted to fly the further it'll also travel sideways); bigger courses are more expensive to build and maintain (these are costs that inevitably translate into higher green fees and club dues); and, bigger courses take longer to play too (there's already a very discouraging slow play problem in golf).

None of this is good for the game, and amazingly relates directly to the R&A's and USGA's non-response to ever-improving playing equipment technology.

Forget the potential lawsuits that may be filed by equipment manufacturers if stricter regulations on playing equipment are imposed - it's been suggested that, perhaps, a class action lawsuit should be filed against the game's governing bodies by all of those clubs and course owners literally forced to add back tees, move greens and bunkers down range, etc., as a means to recoup their 'investments' in response to the R&A's and USGA's apparent complacency.

Now, there's an interesting concept to consider.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. Good blog.

  2. Well said- especially regarding equipment- makes it tough for us hackers to play these monster tracks...

  3. Jeff, very well said and a great discussion topic...although it is a "catch-22". The equipment/ball manufacturers are doing what "we" the public hit further and straighter. Maybe, they should limit the performance of the equipment on Tour, similar to what they do in car racing...create events based on the equipment maker's. For example, when they play the Masters, every player gets issued 2 dozen balls at the beginning of the week and that's it for the week. All the ball's are exactly the same...they could change manufacturers every year. Just a bring up a great discussion, thanks!!

    Ashley Chinner

  4. Jeff, this is very well said. Talk about going in the opposite direction we should be. The game really doesn't need this. It's pretty simple. Every tour (i.e. PGA, European, Nationwide etc.) should have their own official ball for their competitions. In fact they should have three or four that the players can choose from. That way the player can decide which one best suits their game or the course they're playing that week. It would actually add strategy and interest if done that way. All of the balls of course would have distance limited.

  5. Ashley,

    I don't know if I agree with you when you say the equipment manufacturers are doing what 'we' - the public - want. I think they tell us what we want, more than it's demanded.

    Certainly all golfers enjoy opportunity to hit the ball straighter more often. But with regard to length, if there was a serious governor on the ball, a long drive is still a long drive. Using a rolled back ball, better players would still be able to hit it farther than others - you might drive it 260 yards (instead of 360!) and I'd be back at 220 off the tee. You'd still be long at 260 off the tee, relatively.

    Perhaps you're right that bifurcation is the right thing. Personally, I don't particularly like the idea. One of the charming things about the game is that everyone - from me to Tiger - plays the same equipment, more or less. But, if there were too much of a rollback, I can't deny that many potential newcomers to the game would probably be very frustrated these days trying to learn with some of the equipment we even had as kids, eh!

    I recall, at one point recently, Augusta National was considering the very idea you mention above - a 'Masters ball'.