Brandel Chamblee, Tiger Woods, Brad Faxon, Wally Uihlein, Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Davis and Jason Day are just some of the golf community’s highest profile members to have taken a stance on one side or the other of golf’s longest running debate in recent days.
Arguments over distance have simmered for hundreds of years and that shows no signs of slowing though the recent escalation of hostilities among the main protagonists is of concern.
On one side are those who believe that the golf ball, in combination with modern clubs, allows the elite player to hit the ball distances that make several of the game’s greatest courses obsolete for championship play. This writer is in that camp.
On the other are those who believe that any attempt to stifle technological advancement is a backward step and goes against natural human evolution.
In between resides a range of views including those who feel the easiest solution is to split the equipment rules to force a shorter flying ball on professionals while allowing the rest of us to continue to use what’s currently available; referred to in golf circles as 'bifurcation'.
Those of us in the industry who devote much time and energy to thinking and arguing about these issues clearly consider them important but what does the ‘average’ golfer think?
Does the player who tees up once or twice a week with his mates at his home club care how far Dustin Johnson hits the ball?
Do they care that Royal Melbourne has, for all intents and purposes, become a par-68 for professionals despite the scorecard saying 72?
Are they aware, or interested, in the fact that when The Open is played at the Old Course at St Andrews, five of the championship tees used are outside the bounds of the day-to-day golf course?
Is the possibility that Augusta National Golf Club have purchased a plot of land behind the 13th tee with a view to lengthening one of golf’s most intriguing par-5 holes of any concern to them?
I’ve long been a proponent of rolling back ball technology and/or bifurcating the rules to cap modern distance.
To me, the argument has always been about the game’s greatest asset, its courses. The grounds upon which the game is played is what separates golf from all other sporting endeavours and it is these playing fields we have a duty to protect.
A tennis court is a tennis court and a soccer pitch is a soccer pitch no matter where in the world you play. But golf courses? They offer an eclectic and diverse mix of challenges, each unique to that particular playing ground, and it is this which makes the game so endlessly fascinating.
As a fan, I find it sad being denied the opportunity to see the game’s best challenged by the game’s historically greatest layouts.
(Incidentally, that is not a statement about scoring, which many seem to feel is the case. The US Open at Merion in 2013 proved that making a short course difficult is very easy to achieve. What that experiment also proved is that narrowing fairways and growing high rough to defend par makes the game much less interesting.)
The theory of why authorities have failed to place further restrictions on the golf ball in recent years is that the major equipment manufacturers will take legal action if they do.
The golf ball industry is big business and, understandably, those who operate in that space are defensive about retaining what they feel is their biggest selling point: increased distance.
But have the golf ball companies got that right? Will every-day golfers only buy golf balls that promise more distance?
They’re clearly convinced the answer is yes but I’d be curious to know how many golfers agree.
It's worth noting that 'rolling back' the golf ball would have only a miniscule impact (if any) on distance for the vast majority of club golfers who don't swing the club fast enough to capitalise on modern golf ball technology.
The poll below is far from scientific but might be somewhat informative in guiding the way forward as the game tries to resolve an issue that has festered for far too long.
In an increasingly emotionally charged debate, it would be interesting to know what you, the every day golfer, thinks.
Thanks in advance for taking part.
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