Back to basics

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Sean Dudley
By Anthony Hodgson

We are treading a well worn path when we discuss innovations in golfing technology and the reciprocal effect that recent shifts have had on the game, but this could be the most serious issue that golf has ever had to deal with.

The most attracting element of golf is the fact that a player of any standard is spoilt for choice when it comes to shot technique, he has a vast array of methods, implementations and strategies when he tries to hit that little bitch of a ball.

This is where the true essence and spirit of golf lies and like no other game the player is free in his choice of execution and can explore numerous ways to test his skill, imagination and versatility. As the golf writer and architect Max Behr said: "The fundamental charm of the game lies in the atmosphere of freedom that surrounds it." It is this fundamental spirit and freedom that has been lost in recent years as we have seen a significant shift in the game towards a lower choice of versatility which has been replaced by the introduction of sheer brute force.

Normal golfers are easily convinced when they are promised that they can better their scores and reduce their handicap for they are all mentally stuck between their own common sense, their egos and their absolute willingness to believe! They will swallow any amount of bull and spin to achieve their golfing dreams and are completely oblivious to the marketing strategies cleverly presented to them by a vast array of sources within the golf industry.

We cannot just point our finger at the manufacturers of new technologies as they are all competing for profit. Nearly everybody in the industry must admit that they have watched the game spiral away from its humane essence, and most have even encouraged the manufacturers in their quest to make the ball drive further and further.

Even in golf course architecture, quality has been sacrificed for quantity.

Consequently, the courses have become longer and longer and, with some exceptions, even lack interest. In fact, instead of being an art form used to create ideas and encourage an intelligent application of skill, golf course architecture has only enticed the insane instinct to hit the ball further.

The most basic principle of any branch of architecture is that form must follow function, but the way the game is going it seems as if it has lost its initial purpose with the inevitable disappearance of style, character, and form in most newly built and re-modelled courses.

A new movement in architecture was introduced in 1919 at the German Bauhaus so that buildings could reflect the changing times and be suited to the modernisation and innovations that were taking place.

The working premise was to move towards a more comprehensive integration of art and technology, which would lead to the betterment of both. Radically breaking with the past, the Bauhaus school, initially based in Weimar and Dessau, Germany launched the modern movement in both design and architecture.

I believe that this is what is needed in modern course design. We know for a fact that longer courses destroy character and lack interest, and as standalone courses they certainly do not benefit the economic profile of a project. It is vital that we never forget the people who actually contribute the real money to golf and they are today's proud holders of the two 55s (over 55 years old and over 55 handicap). They want to enjoy the game, they will believe anything to reduce their handicaps and, unlike many low handicappers and professionals, they actually pay a lot of money to play! We need to follow the Bauhaus principle and must reverse the recent split between art and technology which would bring a more humane golfing environment and would create an architecture which is timeless and would never be outdated. In creating shorter yet trickier courses we would bring the initial spirit and fun back and could eventually decrease the reliance of physical power and unskilled brute force, which could even defeat the ingenuity of the club and golf ball manufacturer.

What Gary Wolstenholme outlined in the October 2006 issue of GCA is undoubtedly true. If courses are designed and set up to negate the impact of length, with more doglegs, intimidating heroic hazards, an increase of strategic elements, longer rough and tight fairways to promote accuracy then you would not need to make them longer. This can be said for 'championship' courses that plan to hold pro tournament events, as it places all players in the same boat contrary to lengthy tracks which only benefit the long hitters.

It is only natural that these changes occur in the modern world, but it is also fair to say that the changes in golf have been for the worse and have robbed the game of the essence of expression.

Since I started playing golf I have realised that golfers of all abilities really do love the prospect of hitting skillful and imaginative shots. The universal law of golf has never changed, and will never change, is it not better to have more options to consider than just the monotonous full high shot. Surely, greater variety and selection provides greater satisfaction? But is the high spinning marketing fraternity willing to adapt? When will they start writing about good amusing and unassuming courses where all golfers actually have fun?

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