04 Jul 2022

Opinion: The term ‘hazard’ is gone from golf - Ivan Morris

Opinion: The term ‘hazard’ is gone from golf - Ivan Morris

Ivan Morris - The voice of Limerick Golf

HOW carefully have you been listening to golf commentaries on TV recently? Did you notice a new language has taken over the airwaves? For instance, the term hazard has disappeared, only to be replaced by something called ‘the penalty area’.

There wasn't an over-abundance of penalty areas at Bethpage Black for the PGA Championship last week but the course was plenty tough enough without them. For once, your scribe made the correct prediction in this column that Brooks Koepka would win. I didn't write 'in a canter' but it was hidden between the lines.

I would have been wrong even if it might have looked like it. Winning a major is never easy.

Koepka's last five major finishes: 1st, T-39th, 1st, T-2nd and 1st are as good as anybody in recent history has managed. No wonder Rory-Mac said: "Brooks is playing at a different level'. Koepka has not contended in an Open Championship yet, which could be telling at Portrush in July.

Could it be that links golf requires a subtlety that he lacks? We don't have long to find out. The only player at Bethpage to make a fight of it, Dustin Johnson, has finished 2nd in his last two majors. Surely, his turn will come again soon? He is there or thereabouts consistently.

I want to write about something else this week: this latest idea from our rules makers to simplify the language of golf, changing terms that you and I have been using all of our golfing lives.

Taking the word hazard out of golf is like taking the 'fight' out of the game. The word hazard denotes danger and drama and you might be infected with the uneasy feeling you could break a leg or something?

Penalty area sounds so anaemic in comparison. Without hazards golf has no adventure, no risk and no adrenaline-inducing recovery shots; the more dramatic and dangerous they are, the better.

Golf hazards are there to be fought with and overcome. A penalty area will never carry the same threat in one's subconscious mind.

The language of golf is universal and is as old as the game itself. It's a big part of the mystery and allure. Where did the pressure for these changes come from? I wasn't aware of any dissatisfaction.

Some of golf's vocabulary, dates all the way back to Mary Queen of Scots. Why change it now?

If it was done to make the game more accessible to newcomers, it's nonsense. What about those of us who have been playing golf all of our lives using terms that are now being purged?

Attempting to attract 'new enthusiasts' by antagonising old and faithful ones hardly makes sense?

Do the governing bodies think that the game is about to be flooded by illiterates incapable of understanding simple terms? Is it that the rules changes have been made in the hope of bringing the game more in line with those who rarely bother to play by the rules anyway?

What is the point of courting a clientele whose attention span and loyalty is as fickle as the wind and only want to play a game with no consequences?

I have an image inside my head of competitive golf being similar to tightrope walking. Golf is a difficult game and that is why it attracts diehards who are able to ‘take the pain’, absorb the frustrations and come back for more punishment because we know our worst shots are often followed by our best shots.

If we do not always play the game as well as we think we can, so what? The fresh air and exercise will keep us healthy and the companionship will keep us entertained and informed about what is going on in the world. Golf was never a mainstream sport and it never will be!

Re-branding a ‘niche’ in the hope that it might become attractive to the masses is doomed to failure.

Growing the game is a silly notion that is all about greed and has no integrity. To be a real golfer means embracing it as a challenging way of life. To describe Rae's Creek at Augusta (for example) as a penalty area is silly because many a golfer has attempted (some of them successfully) to play out of it; incurring no penalty whatsoever in the process.

Isn't it bad enough that Americans insist on calling bunkers sand traps?

I am getting old and cranky (actually, I was always cranky although I prefer to call it 'questioning') Words ARE important. If you play the ball as it lies from a penalty area it's not a penalty anymore.

Asking golfers to change the way they have spoken to each other for hundreds of years makes no sense to me. Hazards are hazards that sometimes can be overcome with imagination, luck and skill. Holes are halved; totals are tied. Dormie is an elucidatory term that should never be removed.

Many of the new rules are good but calling hazards penalty areas is a change I will ignore. As there is no penalty (excuse the pun) for calling a tie a half or a penalty area a hazard, I'm going to go on doing exactly that until they banish me to the funny farm!

Is there anything as bizarre as the scoring terms in Tennis? 15-love; 30-all; Deuce. Try explaining that to a six year old but, the rules makers in tennis aren't rushing to change.

Tennis's scoring system is 'sacrosanct tradition' and you don't need to be Einstein to understand it.


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