ROLLING BACK ON DIS­TANCE

Thoughts on con­cerns over how far peo­ple can hit a golf ball.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENT - Words by Alex McDon­ald

His 372-yard drive sim­ply took the lit­tle pro­tec­tion the hole has com­pletely out of play, bomb­ing it over the fair­way bunkers that guard the cor­ner of the slight dog­leg. He wasn't alone, with many play­ers fac­ing rel­a­tively short second shots into the 511-yard hole.

While this dis­play of power is un­doubt­edly im­pres­sive, this style of golf has be­come the stan­dard on Tour, and golf course de­sign­ers are strug­gling to keep up with the dis­tances play­ers are hit­ting the ball. This is hardly a new phe­nom­e­non, with the fa­mous pe­riod of “Tiger-proof­ing” that many cour­ses un­der­went in an at­tempt to com­bat the long drives and tow­er­ing ap­proaches of the new gen­er­a­tion of golfers that be­gan to take over the game. Tech­nol­ogy has helped im­mensely, with the 460cc ti­ta­nium driver heads and mul­ti­layer per­for­mance golf balls bear­ing lit­tle re­sem­blance to the per­sim­mon heads and bal­ata balls of decades gone by.

Jack Nick­laus claimed re­cently that he went to the USGA with con­cerns over the dis­tance the ball trav­els as early as 1977, and he re­mains a sup­porter of re­cent dis­cus­sions around plac­ing re­stric­tions on the max­i­mum dis­tance a golf ball can fly. Dis­tance, Nick­laus claims, is the rea­son golf is tak­ing so long. He be­lieves that rolling back on dis­tance would al­low de­sign­ers to stop stretch­ing cour­ses to their max­i­mum dis­tances, speed­ing up play and help­ing make the game more ac­ces­si­ble to those who don't have four and a half hours to spend on the course.

While I un­der­stand the Golden Bear's con­cerns over dis­tance, I don't feel that re­duc­ing the dis­tance am­a­teurs hit the ball is go­ing to speed up play or en­cour­age peo­ple to take up the sport. If any­thing, a 20% re­duc­tion in dis­tance off the tee is more likely to put new play­ers off the game. Af­ter all, ev­ery­one en­joys the feel­ing of catch­ing a driver sweetly and watch­ing it soar into the dis­tance. That feel­ing is what keeps peo­ple com­ing back week af­ter week, and helps the golf bug to fully sink in.

Where I do think a roll back on dis­tance could be ben­e­fi­cial is as a way of pro­tect­ing his­toric cour­ses that have be­come much eas­ier in the mod­ern era. Cour­ses like The Old Course or many other tra­di­tional Open venues are sim­ply too short to pose a real chal­lenge for to­days pros. While light­ning greens and pun­ish­ing rough may of­fer some pro­tec­tion, things like strate­gi­cally placed fair­way bunkers and haz­ards are no longer in play off the tee. Re­duc­ing the dis­tance play­ers hit the ball would make it pos­si­ble for these cour­ses to be pre­sented in a way that re­flects the chal­lenges the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tects in­tended all those years ago.

How­ever, al­most all of the de­bate is cen­tred around re­stric­tions on the golf ball. Other tech­nolo­gies and the sheer ath­leti­cism of mod­ern golfers has had a huge im­pact, and the in­crease in av­er­age swing speed of Tour play­ers from 104 mph in 1980 to 113 mph in 2016 is proof. The amount of anal­y­sis that is avail­able has also made play­ers and coaches alike much more aware of the op­ti­mal con­di­tions for dis­tance, namely launch an­gle and spin rates. I feel that fo­cus­ing only on the ball isn't ad­dress­ing the whole is­sue.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers are likely to be against any at­tempt to re­duce dis­tance. Af­ter all, it's how they mar­ket al­most ev­ery lat­est and great­est prod­uct they bring to the mar­ket. Whether the an­swer lies in sep­a­rat­ing pros from ev­ery­one else and plac­ing lim­i­ta­tions on their equip­ment is highly de­bat­able, and I'm sure the ar­gu­ment will con­tinue to build in the com­ing months. The out­come could po­ten­tially bring about a new era in pro­fes­sional golf, for bet­ter or for worse.

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