Golf Course Architecture - Issue 62: October 2020

59 a ‘death ray’ in WWII (radar), and we have the technology that supports Trackman that allows the best golfers in the world to get even better and, in the case of this argument, even longer. The debate we have today is slightly different from the debate of years past, because 99 per cent of the golfers in the world play one game and the other one per cent play another. The technology of today’s game disproportionally benefits the elite golfer over the duffer. The first question we in the golf community need to answer is ‘do we care?’ According to Golf Monthly the average golfer hits the ball 220 yards and the average five handicap or better hits their drive 250 yards. I don’t think anyone would argue that those numbers will overwhelm the strategic elements of your golf course. But at the highest level of the game those numbers swing in a different direction. According to data collected by the PGA Tour, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour increases about one yard per year. Doesn’t sound too extreme but let’s think of those gains in the career timeline of our generation’s greatest golfer, Tiger Woods. Since Tiger Woods turned professional, the average driving distance on tour went from 267 yards to 295 yards, a change of 28 yards. In that last 40 years the average driving distance on the PGA Tour has increased 50 yards! What Coburn Haskell accomplished in six years we have taken 40 years to match – a gain of 50 yards – and just like 1905, our game (at least at the professional level) has come to a crossroads. So, what do we do? Fortunately, we have been down this path before and according to history we have two paths – do nothing, or roll back technology. Path one – the ruling bodies of golf do nothing. They allow technology to change the game like they did in 1899 and we all forge forward into the great unknown. Unlike 1899 and the invention of the Haskell ball, the average golfer (the 99 per cent) has yet to reap the beneficial gifts that have been designed for the elite golfer. We play the game, we play our courses and we push back the catcalls to add distance to our courses because the tour level golfers don’t play here. Path one does however pose serious problems for the professional golf tours and perhaps their long-term viability. When does professional golf become too monotonous to watch? Will viewers and spectators ever get bored with the driver-wedge approaches into every hole (including par fives)? Golf at the professional level in this uninhibited form will have to adapt, and some of these adaptations have already occurred under our very noses. Today, much like the early years of the Haskell, par is changing. In the United States for instance, when Oakmont Country Club was founded in 1903, the ‘par’ for the course was considered 80. Today it sits nine strokes less. Would the golfing public be willing to accept an Open Championship at the Old course with a par of 63? If the answer is no, then perhaps we take the suggestion of three-time major winner Chick Evans who in the 1920s proposed that there should only be two major championship venues for the US Open – two courses that were built long enough and hard enough to fend off the greatest golfers in the world. If we took Chick’s approach, the elite golfers of the world would abandon our classic courses – our immortal venues like the Old course, Carnoustie, Oakmont and Winged Foot would be relics of golf professionals past – and build 9,000- yard behemoths on both sides of the pond that could give the best golfers “Unlike 1899 and the invention of the Haskell ball, the average golfer (the 99 per cent) has yet to reap the beneficial gifts that have been designed for the elite golfer”