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?
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