Ivan Morris: Golf must be a joy for average players

Ivan Morris Column – Championships to be aligned

Ivan Morris

MY biggest regret about the current practice of altering older golf courses is the introduction of new tees to stretch yardages.

Courses originally designed around [now outdated] distances, regarding the placement of hazards in their relationship to topography and landing areas are constantly being stretched to challenge elite golfers at the expense of Mr. Average.

The game has become disproportionately easier for the big hitter while at the same time it's disproportionately harder for the rest.

If the driving distance gap between a top professional and the best expected of an average, scratch amateur today is 80-yards+ what would that gap have been in 1960? Not remotely near as much but the narrower that gap is, will always be one of the lynch pins safeguarding the overall game.

If the makers of sliothars began producing balls that schoolboys could hit over the bar from puck outs, the authorities wouldn't be long telling the manufacturer what to do with his ball.

In the 1960s, ‘the gap’ was between 15/30 yards.

Today’s excessive gap is due to current equipment being so forgiving of off-centre hits that pros can whale away indiscriminately at aerodynamically engineered golf balls capable of self-correcting crooked shots in mid-flight.

To make matters worse the manufacturers engineered ‘bonus distance’ for those who could swing above 115mph.

Up to the 1990s, the best players only swung at 85% speed capacity because the margin for error on the club face was much less forgiving.

Golf today is too easy for top pros and too difficult for everyone else - all because of the modern ball. If today's long hitters think it is all due to their superior athleticism, tall physiques, Trackman-informed techniques and focused gym work - let them try playing with the 1960s ball and equipment and let's see how well they do?

Anyone swinging hard at a high spinning balata ball with a knob of persimmon at the end of a steel shaft at more than 100mph will be in the woods and off the charts more often than not and the 80+yards distance gap will disappear overnight and the 350-yards + drive will become a thing of the past overnight.

Medium length par-4s will become proper par-4s again. In spite of the manufacturer’s claims that the distance their technology creates is for everybody, it doesn't work out like that.

Average scores and average distances achieved by average golfers have hardly improved for 50-years or more.

(Maybe if the average golfer swung at 85% capacity, like the pros of previous generations did using less high tech equipment, Mr Average might see an improvement?)

Scores of -20 and better (on longer and more difficult courses than ever) are normal on the European and PGA Tours these days.

Where will it all end? More distance has a detrimental knock on effect that makes the game ‘unenjoyable and unplayable’ for the average golfer. By no means the least of these is the inevitability of taking (a lot) longer time to complete 18-holes.

The R&A and USGA (who own the rules of golf) have let it be known the distance line they drew in the sand in 2002 has been crossed and they have begun the process of doing something about it. I'm not holding my breath.

The pro tours are resisting already (or at least the USPGA Tour is) The manufacturers won't conform quietly either. If they have to give up on their claims that every new invention brings golfers 'more distance' what will they have to sell?

For golf to thrive it must be joyful for the average player. Pros are only a tenth of 1% of golfers. They hardly count. Nor, do they buy any golf balls either!

If I had my way, I would make the game (a lot) tougher for the pros. People like watching ‘agony and horror’ on TV, don’t they? I'd turn the golf courses that pros play into rivers of blood! Only in that way will we see who the real warrior/gladiators are? Let’s start by dismissing their caddies.

Gladiators should carry their own weapons. If they bring more than 10 clubs with them; a penalty shot for each extra club should apply. The average golfer today never has a caddie.

If the player had to carry this own clubs, he might think twice about taking more than the maximum with him onto the course.

To see a pro with four, and even five, wedges in his bag, means he is playing far too much of his golf with those clubs.

When highly-skilled players aren’t required to use a full array of their weaponry and shot-making skills, the game is diminished. Finally, a ball made for 99.9% of golfers is as good as one that is made for all in my mind and there is no need to change it but let the pros play with a lighter, high-spinning tournament ball.

Get rid of measuring devices; green-reading maps for surfaces 'stimped' at 9-maximum too. I want to see a 'hard, cruel game' for pros and an easier game for the vast majority (instead of the other way around) A complete rethink is required.

Golf is a game not an industry. Who buys all of the clubs and balls anyway?

My new form of pro golf would help to speed up the game - arguably golf’s biggest potential drawback for time poor future generations?

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