There was a quite interesting and certainly thought-provoking piece in The Guardian last week. The author, Phineas Harper, said that at a golf course in North London a firm of architects had put forward a draft proposal to hand over nine of the 18 holes to the general public for the creation of 650 affordable homes and community facilities which would include lakes, allotments and a gym. This particular part of the capital, Enfield, has one of the UK’s highest proportion of residents living in temporary accommodation. The piece also noted that golf in London uses up nearly as much land as all other sports put together and participant-wise it’s mostly white, mostly male, mostly not for the young and it’s pretty expensive. In short, golf is not a good thing.
That, of course, is not a sentiment with which a golfer is likely to agree, but we would surely have to concur that golf is a long thing. (Unless we’re talking about my driving.) The recent announcement by the R&A and USGA that they are going to reduce the distance the ball travels made this point. The original intention was to make rule changes that only applied to elite golfers; which would have impacted tour golfers but few others. As you likely will be aware, this is known as ‘bifurcation’. Protests from the PGA Tour and equipment manufacturers have made the game’s ruling bodies decide to apply the new criteria - which would pretty much ban every ball currently in use - to everyone. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said: “There are only three options. You can bifurcate, you can change the whole game, or you do nothing. And doing nothing is not an option.”
One of the points here is that longer courses are bad environmentally – they require more water, more maintenance, more chemicals. “We just don’t have enough property anymore,” said Tiger Woods. “We’ve been saying the ball needs to slow down but it has kept speeding up my entire career.” Rory McIlroy said: “The people who are upset about this decision shouldn’t be mad at the governing bodies, they should be mad at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers who didn’t want bifurcation.”
In fact, McIlroy is broadly correct when he says “it will make no difference whatsoever to the average golfer” (actually, I think if I hit it any shorter these days that would mean it had gone backwards, but then I’m not entirely sure what Mr McIlroy means by “average”) but there will doubtless be much discussion in the months ahead before the new regulations are applied, probably in 2028. It would clearly be foolish to rule out any sabre-rattling on the part of some equipment manufacturers who may be eager to insert their lawyers into the argument.
Going back to the original article, the author quotes James Day of Sounder Golf telling Golf Business last year: “We’re sick of the golf industry’s obsession with distance.” The R&A and USGA are attempting to wean its members off it, at least somewhat, but I suspect the course to get there may involve a few doglegs along the way.
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com