Now that the R & A and the USGA have issued their joint statement on their findings from their latest survey what are we being told ?
“ Longer courses mean higher maintenance costs, greater environmental impact and rounds taking more time to complete “. Difficult to argue with !
”Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction “. Now the arguments can commence !
What no golfer wants to see is another classic old layout consigned to relative obscurity due to it being overpowered by today’s elite big hitters. In recent years we have seen the championship links at both Turnberry and Royal Portrush undergo major transformations requiring large scale investment to secure their future on the Open Championship rota. There are very few locations with both the necessary space and financial resources to carry out the same work.
The situation demands action. What options exist and more importantly which option or combination provides the optimum solution ?
The majority of discussions on this subject over the last 5,10 even 20 years always tended to focus on making technical changes to the ball. To many this still stands out as the best proposal. One option is to have a ball specification solely for use by the top tour professionals; presumably adopting the same principle as squash where the beginners ball is designed to bounce and is highly forgiving to any mis-hit shot.In stark contrast the balls used at top level squash require significant power and correctly struck shots every time to achieve the desired result.
An alternative proposal is to retain the same ball configuration across all levels of the sport but to re-engineer the performance so that distance will plateau after a certain clubhead speed is attained.This at least has the merit of preserving one of golf’s great enduring attractions; allowing every golfer the opportunity to play the same course from the same tees using the same equipment as the professionals use.
Some real traditionalists would of course love to see the sport “ rollback “ to the grand old days pre mega size head metal woods; not completely convinced the climate warriors are ready for the cutting down of trees to make a new generation of drivers but those Persimmon woods were very nice.
The real highlight of this all consuming debate is of course the extensive use of the word Bifurcation. The possibility of essentially splitting the sport into two distinct sections has gained a good degree of traction. Whilst it makes sense to restrict changes to a limited extent within the high performance pro world, the main barrier to change, the big equipment manufacturers, will need to be assured that any future changes will be effective in attracting more new golfers or rather customers into this great game.
We are at a time here in Scotland where we have a number of once healthy clubs being forced to close due to falling memberships whilst major operators and wealthy investors are opening up fantastic new “ bucket list “ projects such as Dumbarnie Links in Fife and Ardfin on the island of Jura.
If the game is to flourish it certainly needs to resolve this distance debate and soon.The ruling bodies have at least officially recognised change needs to happen.Major champions across the generations have registered their approval.Vested interests abound.Golf has given them healthy bank balances.All have a responsibility to act.