There’s a good deal of chat going around the golfing world at the moment as to how golf can fight its corner in attracting and keeping new players in the face of stiff competition from a plethora of seemingly more exciting and more sexy sports and pastimes.At grass roots level it is fairly obvious that we in the UK and Ireland can do better at providing an environment appealing to women, children and families, an idea embraced by the Scandinavians for the last three decades. Too many clubs have been slow to buy into this concept with the result that it is frequently an uphill battle combating dwindling numbers and interest. With this in mind, I applaud the simplification of the rules, the next version of which comes bounding into play in January 2019. Taking a couple of penalty shots and dropping the ball near the out-of-bounds fence over which your ball has just sailed is common sense and has been in practice in friendly golf for years. It is simpler and beats trudging back to the tee and taking a penalty of stroke and distance – and, with a bit of luck, it should keep play moving. Rules that are easier to understand and implement are obviously one way forward, though this OB rule won’t be used at professional or elite level.
I’m pretty much in favour of most things that make the game easier and therefore more enjoyable for the club golfer. I most definitely would NOT have banned the anchoring stroke in putting for the club player, who, to a greater or lesser degree, is challenged in terms of skill level anyway. Many of the players you see with the broomhandles have suffered from the yips and the long putter has kept them playing the game and enjoying it. Of course, the long putter itself is not actually banned but you cannot have your hand touching your body, a near impossible task in winter golf when swathed in several layers. This is an easy game not to play – let’s not give anyone any encouragement in that direction.
For the same reasons I would not want to see the club player losing significant distance in their long games because of mooted restrictions on the distance the ball can travel. It is a great joy to swing one of the frying-pan-head sized drivers and belt the ball a decent distance even when the bus pass is tucked into your hip pocket alongside your scorecard and specs with which to read them both.
The sharp eyed among you will have noted that I make all of the above points with reference to the club player. I am, however, in favour of different conditions being imposed on those who play the game for a living. I am a fan of bifurcation (a fancy word to describe having two sets of rules, one for pros and one for amateurs.) The guardians of our game have oft stated they are completely against bifurcation, citing one of the beauties and unique selling points of golf being that anyone can play any of the great courses that host major championships with the same balls and clubs available to the world’s best. That is a claim that doesn’t bear close scrutiny. We already have bifurcation. Higher end equipment played by the tour pros is not available to the public from retailers. And the aforementioned new option of dropping after hitting it OB is only available to the club golfer. What is wrong with acknowledging that the pros play a completely different game and on occasion should (as they indeed do) play different rules?
Let’s talk about the professional game now. It’s our shop window and has the power to attract or repel people into or away from our sport. The modern game played by supreme male and female athletes has been described by many as a “bomb and gouge” game, i.e. go and smash the ball as far as you can, often leaving only a wedge or short iron to the green. It’s so much more one dimensional than twenty years ago. But let’s not blame the pros for the lack of guile and shotmaking in the modern game. They and their skills have developed in response to the equipment and course set-ups they play week in week out where the premium is on length and not necessarily accuracy. This has led to courses getting longer and longer, rounds taking longer and longer and costs of maintaining courses soaring to stratospheric heights. With drives now reaching, and on occasion surpassing, 400 yards it is time to restrict the distance the ball goes. That way the great courses of the world do not become obsolete and the diminishing skills of strategy and shotmaking can be reintroduced through judicious course set-up.
Furnish the manufacturing companies with specifications for a tournament ball and allow them to come up with their own conforming model which must be played in all professional tournaments – and, I would suggest, perhaps also in amateur championships and International matches. I don’t forsee any difficulty for elite amateur players – it ‘d be similar to when both the 1.62 inch ball and the 1.68 inch balls were in use and we amateurs switched to the larger one for everything because that was what was required at the elite level.
Leave the club players to enjoy and benefit from technology and introduce a tournament-conforming ball for the pros and elite amateurs. Is it really so difficult?