2003: No time for ball overhaul
Monday, October 17, 2011
As the nation mourns for the seven astronauts who perished aboard the Columbia, and as we face the grim specter of war in Iraq, it serves to remember that golf is just a game. It’s meant to be a diversion from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. It’s supposed to be fun.
Which is why the debate over golf’s “distance problem” is so puzzling. Yet it won’t go away, as shown by a recent seminar at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. Among the panelists were David Fay of the U.S. Golf Association; Peter Dawson of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews; course architects Tom Fazio and Pete Dye; and equipment company executives Ron Drapeau of Callaway, Mark King of TaylorMade and Bob Wood of Nike. The session was billed as “The Business of Golf,” but it might as well have been subtitled “What are we going to do about the golf ball?”
Dye pleaded for a rolled-back ball – circa 1992 – for use on the PGA Tour. Such a ball, Dye contends, would effectively restore 24 yards per hole to Tour layouts. Drapeau concurred, calling for a “Tour ball” manufactured to specifications that would lower the current limit for initial velocity.
The Tour ball proposal was rejected not only by Fay and Dawson, but also by a panel of golf industry heavy-hitters convened three days later by Golfweek (see page 22).
The ruling bodies are against any “bifurcation” of the Rules of Golf. And they are united in their belief that the availability of the same equipment and the opportunity for the average player to measure himself against the game’s best is a bedrock of golf.
The equipment companies take a broader view (albeit self-serving), citing their quest to provide implements and balls that give average golfers more chances to hit those occasional booming tee shots or crisply struck irons that keep them coming back.
The PGA Tour certainly doesn’t think there’s a distance problem. It’s in the entertainment business – and eagles and birdies make for good entertainment.
Average golfers don’t think there’s a distance problem. Even with new ball and club technology at their disposal, they aren’t protesting that the game has become too easy.
Fay posed an interesting theory. As critics age, he suggested, the more they fret over technological advances and low scoring. It’s not really the integrity of the game they fear is under assault; it’s the accomplishments of their generation’s sporting heroes.
Even if there is a “distance problem,” the USGA isn’t inclined to take action anytime soon. At the USGA annual meeting Feb. 1, senior technical director Dick Rugge said: “We do not intend to change the rules as they pertain to golf balls.”
That’s good news. If the USGA and the PGA Tour object to the distance some athletes can propel today’s golf ball, there are other ways they can protect par. They can relocate bunkers and make them deep enough so they really do exact a penalty. They can cut fairways a half-inch higher so the ball doesn’t roll as far. They can grow the rough higher; squeeze the fairways; push the boundaries of fairness with hole locations.
Hey, these guys are good. If they need to, they can handle it.