Recently, I acquired a copy of “St. Andrew’s Golf Club: The Birthplace of American Golf,” a centennial history of the club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. St. Andrew’s was one of the five founding members of the U.S. Golf Association, and the history published in 1989 explored its first 100 years.
One of the most interesting parts of the book, by Desmond Tolhurst, was the chapter on the club’s centennial celebration.
On June 20, 1988, the club hosted what it called a Hero-Am. It started with Jack Nicklaus teeing off at 8 a.m., followed by a who’s-who of golf that included Louise Suggs, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Pat Bradley, Johnny Miller, Sandra Haynie, Roberto De Vicenzo, Kathy Whitworth, Paul Runyan, Raymond Floyd, Carol Mann, JoAnne Carner, Nancy Lopez, Arnold Palmer, Charles Sifford, Robert T. Jones, Bill Campbell, Jay Sigel, Deane Beman, Jack Tuthill, Dinah Shore, Frank Chirkinian, John Laupheimer, Pete Dye and George Pepper.
After golf, Nicklaus and Hogan were interviewed, and transcripts of the interviews were included in the chapter. Some of their comments resonate 23 years later.
Nicklaus was asked where he stood on square grooves and other innovations. This was at a time when square grooves and metal woods were revolutionary.
Nicklaus didn’t have a problem with most innovations because they didn’t change the nature of the game, but he did express a concern over square grooves and the golf ball, which he said changed the nature of the game.
“They control the ball to the point where they’ve taken some of the skill out of the game,” Nicklaus said of square grooves, adding, “and the golf ball itself, which goes too far today.
“A course like St. Andrew’s here would be a pretty darned good test of golf, if we still used the ball we played 20 years ago. The USGA says that today’s ball doesn’t go farther. I don’t buy that; it goes just a tremendous distance farther. It reduces a St. Andrew’s or a Merion to where they aren’t long enough to be sites for major championships. Today, you can’t play a 6,500-to-6,800-yard course as a championship course any more. You must stretch it to 7,100 or 7,200 yards. I don’t think that’s right.”
One other question for Nicklaus that elicited an interesting response was about younger golfers.
“The game is approached very differently today,” Nicklaus said. He went on to explain that when he played college golf at Ohio State, all of his matches were either match play or a combination of match/medal play.
“You could win a point on the front nine, one on the back nine and one for the 18 holes,” Nicklaus said. “You could always gain a point for your team in some way.”
Nicklaus went on to say that high schools and colleges are playing team total, medal play.
“If you don’t have four good players on your team, your team is never in contention and none of the kids ever learn how to be tough coming down to the end,” Nicklaus said. “I think that‘s part of what is wrong with the Tour today. Our kids are coming out of college medal-play-oriented. They’re not oriented toward winning. They’re oriented to see how high they can finish in a college event.”
Nicklaus went on to say that the conservative play was making American golfers weaker on an international level.
Hogan came next. He was 75 years old and as feisty as ever. His most interesting comments concerned equipment, though keep in mind that he owned an equipment company.
Asked whether he thought the ball had changed too much, Hogan emphatically said, “No.”
“It’s faster; it will go farther and straighter nowadays,” Hogan said. “But if everybody plays with the same equipment, it’s still the same kind of contest as it used to be.”
Hogan went on to talk about how golf was the greatest game and how it’s not a contact game, but it’s contact between the ears.
Even in this day and age, we tend to forget about that part of the equation.