2004: Teeing off on length

The two guys at the club bar are talking excitedly about the warming weather because they know it is nearly time to hit their first drives of the year. It is spring, and these New Englanders appear very fired up indeed.

Fired up, that is, to play their home course, a charming layout built in the early 1900s. But they dread the choruses of nonsense that invariably will accompany their return to the links. The blather emanates from a cadre of club members who incessantly beseech the golf committee to stretch out their track like a piece of Silly Putty. Their testosterone-laden goal, it seems, is to transform a stylish, Jazz Age course into Bethpage Black and use that as a way of flexing their golfing muscles.

“It’s all we hear from those people,” says one of the fellows at the bar, a septuagenarian who once played to a 4 handicap and also served for many years as his club’s greens chairman. “They keep wanting to add length, and for what? To brag to their friends that they have the longest course around?”

I sympathize with that man’s frustration, because we sometimes deal with the same issue at my place. Granted, those are the sentiments of only very small segments of both memberships. But they are very vocal segments, loudly fretting that historic tracks created before the introduction of steel shafts and triplex mowers will become obsolete if they don’t undergo a Barry Bonds-type makeover.

They also worry there is something embarrassingly inadequate about a golf course that in their mind doesn’t quite measure up in length.

No amount of noise, however, can obscure the fact that such pleas for transformation are not only misguided but also would ruin some of the country’s great old courses and destroy the enormous pleasure so many members derive from their homey club layouts.

Consider that only a tiny percentage of any club membership plays the back tees on a regular basis. And even at places with very strong ranks of amateur players, there is at best an infinitesimal number for whom additional yardage might truly and sensibly improve the challenge – or experience – of a particular hole or course.

To be sure, it is a different situation for those tracks playing host to PGA Tour events, for when you bring in those pros, you had better have some length. But adding yardage there makes sense because it genuinely is needed and is done for the tournament itself.

Why, then, are so many knuckleheads pushing for the big distance changes on basic members courses?

Ego is a big part of it, as is an inherent delusion among golfers that they are much better than they actually are. Attitude also is an issue. In my part of the country, for example, we have a lot of big-money business moguls who get the numbers on their 1040s confused with their IQs. So, there is no dissuading them when they get it in their head that their home tracks need to be Tiger-proofed even though Tiger Woods never will play them.

A course architect recently complimented the restoration work we are completing on my home track, a lovely Seth Raynor design, for being geared toward the members who play it all the time, and not for the greater game of golf. In other words, he likes that we are not trying to deal with the issue of increased distance on the PGA Tour, nor are we trying to attract a U.S. Open. Rather, we are simply revitalizing and enhancing the wonderful attributes and features of a historic gem.

The idea, of course, is to make it an even better place for members, for people like those two fellows I was chatting with at the bar – longtime golfers who have neither the physical nor psychological need for something that measures 7,400 yards from the tips.

If only we could get the guys oozing all that testosterone to think the same way.

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