The USGA announced results of an ongoing study related to the increasing distance of golf balls, and that the “continuing increases in golf ball distance, and that the lengthening of golf courses is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future.” The USGA will now consider approving a “local-rule”, where it can be specified that only a certain kind of golf ball, or golf clubs can be used. This local-rule could be adopted by a shorter golf course that doesn’t want to architecturally change their layout to fit the length of today’s player, or a course that seemingly cannot meet the PGA Tour standards anymore. This rule would not impact all of golf, but would allow different clubs/organizations the opportunity to choose the order in which they would like their golf to be played. Most importantly, the certain golf balls and clubs being used will go shorter than what the technology of today’s balls and clubs allow.
I understand the argument that the USGA is making here, but it seems backward to me. Yes, the golf balls and clubs of today’s game go so much further than those that Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Greg Norman used during their careers, but as time changes, technology evolves, and players should be hitting it further than they ever have. Part of the problem with the changes in technology is that some of the most renowned golf courses in the world are becoming over powered by today’s standards, and simply were not designed with today’s technology in mind. This problem leaves some of the best golf courses in the world left out of high, elite level competition, because they cannot challenge the best players in the world anymore.
Limiting the advances in technology does not seem like it will benefit in “growing the game” of golf in the long term. I don’t know statistics, but my guess is the average joe sees a commercial for one of the new Taylormade drivers on TV and thinks to themselves, “That looks sweet. I want to try that.” This, as opposed to seeing a commercial for an old titanium driver that’s head is as small as an Oreo Cookie and thinking, “Yikes, where’s the sweet spot on that?” I realize some of these provisions of “local-rules” may never make it down to the everyday casual golfer, and will most likely just affect the high-level players, but that’s the best advertising a club manufacturing company can do for their clubs, is to have a fan watch a pro use their equipment. You sit down to watch the Waste Management Phoenix Open and see Rickie using the new Cobra river, Bubba Watson blasting his Ping driver, Justin Thomas with his Titleist gear, and even Xander Schauffele rocking the new Callaway Maverick. Without the pros displaying the new technology for the average fan, then I guarantee the impact that pros have with their equipment will reach less and less people. It seems like the change would be a disservice to innovation and technology.
The game of golf has come so far from its beginnings. Not only have the golf balls and clubs changed, but the architecture of our courses has changed as well. To some, it might not seem long ago that many architects and their teams were using horse-drawn plows to shape their golf courses. Now, technology plays a huge role in not only how we shape our golf courses, but how we view the terrain as well. Some of the best golf courses in the world were built before technology really started to advance, and they are still here standing the test of time today. Although some of the great golf courses are becoming more unfit for the modern game, let’s not do a disservice to innovation and technology by taking things back, but let’s meet it head on with the new challenges that the technology of today gives us.
I believe golf architecture is not far from challenging today’s technology with a new age. With the careers of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson starting to wind down, in what seems to be the next decade or so, they have both started to dabble in golf architecture. Tiger, born in 1975, and Phil born in 1970, have both seen golf at its highest of levels in four or more decades. That means that have used all levels of equipment and technology from then to now. They have both seen the changes in architecture during that period, and how the technology of the golf ball and club have impacted some of the iconic layouts of the past. The knowledge these two gentleman have for the game of golf is undeniable, and I believe they will lead us into a different age of golf architecture. They will lead an age of architecture with a better understanding of today’s technology, and where it will be as we look forward to the future. They not only have an understanding of golf being played at its highest level, but they will understand how to create a penal setup for the above average player. Instead of bunkers at 250-280 yards off the tee, they might start at 300 yards to challenge the length and technology. Greens may become smaller to hit and hold, and pins sitting on smaller plateaus and shelves will challenge the technology and spin of today’s golf balls. Remember, there is no defense for good offense, but proper architecture will test all.
Not only has the game of golf come a long way since it began, but technology has as well. In 1920, they had no idea what the game of golf would be like in year 2020. As we look to the future of golf, we have a better understanding and idea for where the game is headed, and where it will be moving forward. By holding back the technology of today, I believe it will negatively affect the growth and technology of golf for tomorrow. Every year I always get excited to see what is new in the golf equipment industry, and I’m always curious to see how they are advancing new technology and ideas. With that in mind, I believe that golf should stay growing it’s ideas and innovation for the future, just like everything else in the world. As time changes, the world evolves, and as much as some people want golf to remain the same, it will only continue to grow and get better year by year.