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Readers Letters - March/April 2013

Most sensational Senior moment

Professional sport these days has the perception of being purely a young person’s domain. Reach the big three-zero and you’re facing retirement! Happily, there are exceptions to this belief. Golf, for example, is a game that embraces – and rewards – all ages. A prime example of this phenomena occurred at the 2012 Australian Open at the Lakes, in Sydney. The field boasted Chinese superstar, 14-year-old, Guan Tianlang and eight-time major champion, Tom Watson. The two red-hot favourites were Justin Rose and Adam Scott. Yet the eventual winner was 53-year-old Peter Senior – the oldest champion in the tournament’s history.

Watching the final day’s play made for enthralling golf, as the weather conditions were extreme with gale-force winds making this a battle of attrition. Overnight leader, John Senden began the final round at seven under and finished over par. Players were spraying balls everywhere. Peter Senior, however, kept every ball on the fairway and didn’t miss any short putts to edge Brendan James by a stroke. The aptly named Senior, proved that age is no barrier to success.

Carol Nathaniel, Australia via email

One (14-1b) Rule for one, one (14-1b) rule for another

In explaining the need for the new Rule 14-1b the R&A’s Executive Director for rules and equipment standards, David Rickman, is quoted as saying, “Golf is about controlling the entire club, and trying to do that without additional support and stabilisation”. Thus the R&A’s new rule is entirely based on the supposed ‘anchoring’ of the club against the body – rather than a ban on long putters.

However, a video on its website, clearly created to explain and justify the R&A’s position, illustrates how a Matt Kuchar-style anchoring of the putter’s grip and shaft against the forearm is permissible.

Week in week out we are subjected to football managers and players pleading for consistency from referees in their interpretation and application of rules. And on the basis of what seems like a confused message from the R&A, I can’t believe there are not now droves of belly- and broomhandle advocates wondering why they are being singled out while others are not.

In fairness, football thrives on its controversies – they spark the debates and feelings of injustice that foster people’s tribe-like allegiance to their team.

So maybe with a bit more of such ridiculous rules bodging the R & A can do the same? Then we could look forward to scuffles between caddies, and managers such as Chubby Chandler telling us how his ‘boy was robbed’.

M Williams, London, via email

The biggest problem facing the game today

I love playing golf, always have done, always will do. However, I fear my days on the course may be numbered. And I doubt I am alone.

I have been a member at my current club for 11 years, but this year I find myself questioning whether or not to renew my subscription. The course has become busier each year, which means the snippets of time I get to play normally develop into 5- hour marathons. I understand golf takes time, but really, 5 hours? Adding to the frustration of the time it takes is the cost. Ideally, all I need is a 2-day membership – 7 days is wasted on me. At best I play once a week – twice if I’m very lucky. To add insult to injury the club has just offered a new ‘intermediate’ membership to new and existing members aged between 30-35 – an offer that effectively halves the subs. Not great if you are 36!

The rationale, I’m told, is that the club wishes to attract new members as well as making sure that others in that age bracket renew their subs. It’s the same up and down the country – the club wants to attract a new membership to replace the aging one. Fine. I get that. Increasing numbers brings more revenue, which should mean that subs generally are held at current levels.

But the numbers are small. In total, they might attract 10 new members (while at least 20 members who were previously paying full fees will now pay half as much as they did last year). As a result, the course gets busier, yet the income in subscription fees remains the same. The intermediate idea is founded on the premise that younger people need financial support – which if we were talking about juniors and students I could understand. But in an age where golfers lavish £250+ on a new driver, do we honestly need to support and subsidise golf for 30-35 year olds?

Would I think differently if I were 32? Not really, playing golf and having membership is a choice, golf can be accessible whatever your budget, therein lies the choice. My fear for the club is what happens when these new members turn 36? Will they be loyal to the club that has looked out for them, or will they go looking The answer to that question, as many other golf clubs know only too well, is not good for the game. What is needed, across the board, is a flexible membership that allows golfers like me the opportunity to pay a fee that reflects the opportunity I have to actually play. In the long run, I’m sure this would increase the number of members, and help to make the game accessible to those who cannot afford what are often prohibitive annual dues.

Lee Murley, West Sussex

R&A under fire

In recent months not one but two Conservative Ministers for Sport have criticised an organisation that would normally be thought of as their natural allies. Colin Moynihan and the current minster, Hugh Robertson, became the latest in a long line of politicians criticising the R&A for awarding The Open Championships to men only clubs.

What did the R&A do next? It sneaked JCB’s onto the Old Course at 8 hours’ notice and it banned a method of putting that has had no statistically proven effect on the game. The fact that three men only clubs are hosts to The Open between 2011 and 2016 shows its indifference to such on-going criticism.

A quick poll in the clubhouse tell’s me it’s no one else’s business how a private club decides to go about its affairs. Fair point. But when the club in question happens to be the ruling body of the game worldwide, and is awarding the biggest championship in golf to like-minded clubs of its choosing, the issue becomes public. Furthermore, when the ruling body is attacked by members of your own government, is not your sport being attacked and should not golfers be concerned enough to look into this? It prompted me to ponder: what is the R&A actually there for?

We should remember that the public facing R&A are a group of limited companies, owned by and formed in 1974 to protect the gentlemen members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Conveniently, they share the same premises, officers and website. On looking the latter up there’s nothing as trendy as a mission statement but you will find: “The R&A seeks to engage in and support activities that are undertaken for the benefit of the game of golf”. Nowhere on their site will you see any admission that the game of golf is best served for the benefit of males only.

Would it be to the benefit of golf if they got a sympathetic hearing from the government of the day?

Let’s just consider the case here in GB&I where there are numerous reasons this would be a good idea. The R&A very publically campaigned for golf’s inclusion in the Olympics as being good for growth of the game.

At the time of writing, the allocation of UK Government funding each Olympic sport is to receive in the run up to Rio is being thrashed out behind closed doors. Cycling and Swimming are hoping for about £2,500,000 per annum each. In the current economic climate it doesn’t seem like the a government of any hue is going to be welcoming another sport holding out a begging bowl, particular not one where the most famous ruling body is criticised for discrimination against half the world’s population.

I liked the idea floated in the October edition of GI, to have the Women’s Open played at the same time and in the same general location as the men’s. Nothing would do more to enhance what I consider to be the world’s premier golf event, The Open Championship, than to incorporate it into a Wimbledon style fortnight. This can never happen while St George’s, Troon and Muirfield are in the rota.

Come the Open at Muirfield this year we will see Dawson trot out to face the world’s media as the equivalent of a night watchman playing a straight bat as journalists attempt to bowl him a googly or a bouncer. But, as we know, playing defensively is designed merely to preserve the current innings a little bit longer. What is needed is a positive approach, taking the game to one’s opponents. We need to start by increasing the golfing population the senior representative body claims to speak for by 100%, confidently tackle the real issues that threaten the game and, more than ever, get the message out about what a great game we have. The last time the R&A had a change of management at the top was in the last century; it’s time for a change in the batting order. Damn it, I might have to start voting Tory if they keep on saying things that make sense!

Tony Muldoon, via email

Memo to the R&A: listen!

Working within public service I have had my fill of supposed ‘consultation’ – where the government then totally ignores the concerns expressed by respondents and goes ahead with whatever they said they would do in the first place.

However, I would praise the R&A for having a 3 month consultation on the proposed new rule banning ‘anchoring’. The fact that contributors are free to email in whatever they want (to is a step forward from the government’s method of asking for comment only upon limiting – and sometimes leading – questions. (I know of a blog on one website encouraging people to copy their postings and submit them to the R&A’s email address. I, for one, will do so with this letter.)

And whilst many will believe the outcome is already a fait accompli perhaps the fact they are inviting comments shows a level of unease over whether this proposal is valid and/or good for the game after all? Either way, I imagine that the R&A will be receiving some fascinating responses, and so I do hope they will publish a quantative and qualitative report for all of us to read.

My guess is that many of those in favour of the ban will concentrate on some ethereal ‘spirit of the game’ and aesthetic arguments. Whilst those against it will cite the lack of evidence to back any need for a ban (as I write this there is not a player in the upper echelons of putting stats using a long putter).

Either way, the R&A is then tasked with proving they have listened to what we have said and acted in a manner that is in accordance with our wishes. Polling days are deathly quiet because successive governments have not been seen to do so. It would be a shame if the R&A followed suit.

Ryan Kevins, via email

Editor’s note: Given the levels of interest this debate has stirred in the world of golf, it would be extraordinary to think that the consultation period was nothing but a publicity stunt... Wouldn’t it?

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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