DO WE RE­ALLY NEED TO LENGTHEN GOLF COUR­SES?

Are golfers hit­ting the ball ever fur­ther and, if so, do we need longer cour­ses to ac­com­mo­date this new age of power hit­ting?

Golf Monthly - - Your View -

wide­spread be­lief in golf is that, from the pro game down­wards, we’re all hit­ting the ball fur­ther and fur­ther, and as a re­sult, older, shorter cour­ses are be­com­ing ob­so­lete as pro­fes­sion­als and am­a­teurs are in­creas­ingly able to over­power them. But, is this ac­tu­ally the case? Does a re­lent­less rise in dis­tances across the board mean we have to make our golf cour­ses longer?

A re­port re­cently pub­lished by The R&A and the USGA ex­am­ined, in con­sid­er­able depth, driv­ing dis­tance in pro­fes­sional golf us­ing data from seven tours. On the Euro­pean Tour, av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance in­creased by 0.7 per cent be­tween 2003 and 2015. That equates to just 2.1 yards. The av­er­age drive on the cir­cuit in 2015 went 288.4 yards. There were sim­i­lar mi­nor in­creases on the Amer­i­can tours, but on the Ja­pan Golf Tour, the Ladies Euro­pean Tour and The LPGA Tour, av­er­age driv­ing dis­tances have ac­tu­ally come down since 2003. On ev­i­dence from the last 12 years, we can def­i­nitely say the pros are not driv­ing in­ex­orably fur­ther.

Dr Steve Otto of The R&A pre­sented data to the 2016 EIGCA (Euro­pean In­sti­tute of Golf Course Ar­chi­tects) con­fer­ence, which should dis­pel the myth that am­a­teur golfers are now able to out­hit shorter cour­ses. Af­ter ex­ten­sive data col­lec­tion, The R&A pro­duced a ta­ble show­ing av­er­age driver and 5-iron dis­tances for am­a­teur golfers. The av­er­age drive by a male Cat­e­gory 1 golfer trav­els 234 yards, the av­er­age by a Cat­e­gory 3

Agolfer goes just 190 yards. For women, it’s 205 yards in Cat­e­gory 1 and 145 yards in Cat­e­gory 3. Even if am­a­teurs are hit­ting the ball a lit­tle fur­ther, we’re hardly ‘send­ing it out there’.

If, then, the pro­fes­sion­als have been hit­ting the ball the same dis­tance for 12 years and we mere mor­tals are not ex­actly ‘nuk­ing it’, what rea­son could there be for in­creas­ing course length?

One ar­gu­ment could be if a course wished to at­tract county or na­tional events. Per­haps adding an ex­tra 30 yards here or there might sway the se­lec­tors when they are choos­ing a venue. But the mem­bers don’t need it to be longer and, in fact, is it length of course that will truly test the best golfers in an elite event?

It’s cer­tainly not al­ways the case in pro­fes­sional golf. At last December’s Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge, the course at the Gary Player Coun­try Club mea­sured 7,831 yards and the short­est par 4 on the card was 424 yards. Marc Leish­man took the ti­tle with a win­ning to­tal of

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