This might be an odd post coming from someone who once wrote that golf was too hard, but I’m coming out in favor of a cap on golf equipment technology. Maybe even a little roll back, but since that will never happen, I’ll settle for putting the brakes on. Golf technology isn’t making many amateurs better players. It’s just emptying their wallets. New technology fuels what is probably a withering golf equipment industry, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of scores plummeting.
If you remember my ideas for making golf easier, none of them was a 750 cc driver. I wanted a bigger hole, two flags per green, preferred lies in all bunkers, elimination of the O.B. stake, things of that nature. That would actually help your score. If you go buy a new set of irons today, I’m willing to bet you’ll shoot the same score as you shot last week. The USGA is encouraging people to have more fun by playing a shorter set of tees, they haven’t partnered with Taylor Made to get a white driver in everyone’s hands.
Golf is a sport that is tied very closely to its equipment. As opposed to something like basketball, which is all about the athletes, golf is part golfer, but also part clubs and part course. I think one of the things that people like about golf is that they can play the courses the pros play. They can use the ball the pros use. Your Scotty Cameron belly putter can be almost identical to the one Adam Scott uses. It’s something golf has going for it. If I had the means, I could play Pebble Beach. I can’t take batting practice at Wrigley Field, or try to kick a few field goals down at the Linc.
It’s the desire to be like the pros, though, that often gets golfers in trouble. You might want to hit the same model of irons that Dustin Johnson has, but you couldn’t find the sweet spot with a treasure map. You might want to play Torrey Pines from 7,500 yards, but the boxes on the scorecard aren’t big enough for that many digits. The money from the new technology comes from the masses buying it up. They want to buy it, because of what the pros are capable of doing with it, but the disparity between the pro game and the amateur game keeps getting more glaring.
Let’s say a stock par-4 is a driver and 7-iron. Not too long ago on the PGA Tour this would have meant something around 400 yards with a high-end of 425. At the same time, your run of the mill amateur might have hit those clubs 340 yards. Now, I’d say the majority of guys on tour can hit those clubs in the 485 yard range and the high-end for a guy like Bubba Watson or J.B. Holmes might be 530 yards or more. At the same time, your basic amateur has probably only bumped his number up to 360-375. While the Tour pros are 40 yards longer off the tee and a club and half longer with their irons, the guy at the local muny has probably squeezed 15 yards out of his driver and not much else.
What if a whole course was made of stock par-4s? Back in the day the total yardage for the pros would be 7,200 yards. For the amateurs, 6,120 yards. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Your standard championship tees and a nice friendly set of whites. A course now made up of stock par-4s for the pros would measure 8,730 yards (9540 for Bubba). The amateurs get a little bump to 6570 (365 yards per). Look at those numbers. This is what golf technology is doing. It’s making courses obsolete for the professionals and only marginally helping the everyday player.
We’ve gotten to the point where there are only three things that can keep scoring down in professional events, and Mother Nature is in control of two of them. An incredibly firm golf course, a very windy day, or a tricked up venue are the only things that will keep any course in the world from being slaughtered by the guys on Tour. The Byron Nelson event was one of the hardest of the year, because the wind blew 30 mph all week. The U.S. Open was a pushover, because they couldn’t firm up Congressional. Look at what happened at Aronimink. It was playing fast and tough for two days, but heading into Saturday they either decided they wanted more birdies or the members wanted their greens to be healthy on Monday. They watered. The course record was broken twice in about a ½ hour.
You’d think the point of golf technology would be to make the game easier, but from a business standpoint the objective is to sell equipment under the ruse that you’ll get better. The only players really reaping any benefit are the guys who are already elite. Even if you happened to gain 15 yards, for an amateur that probably won’t help your score. How many fairways do you hit a round? Five? So, on the other 9 occasions you are just 15 yards further into trouble. Maybe you even blow one OB that normally would have stayed in bounds. Maybe you hit a few iron shots to 15 feet instead of 25 feet, but guess what? You 2-putt from both locations.
From about 1996 to 2007, I played the same set of irons. When I finally got new irons, there was no discernible change in my game. The only real bump in distance I’ve ever gotten is from ball technology, but like I said, that extra distance never made me a better player. I’ve never bought a golf club that has made me a better player. That’s the bottom line. And so if golf technology isn’t really helping people, it’s just draining your disposable income and making classic courses obsolete, what the hell are we doing?
Golf is hard, but it isn’t hard because you don’t have the right clubs.