Friday, October 5, 2012

Where Does It End?

 I hope that this blog post stirs discussion and thought. It is an issue that I have been thinking about over the last year, but finally put it on paper during my time this summer at Golf Monthly Magazine. Please contribute a comment beneath the post with thoughts for discussion.
216 yard par 3 at Royal Portrush
The designing of golf courses has changed and adapted since its inception in the late 19th century. The days of Old Tom Morris and Alan Robertson are now a thing of the past. What was once simply marking where to cut grass and place pins has become a job for bulldozers and earthmovers.  Modern course design has become a task of moving and shifting countless tons of soil to create the perfect vistas, angles, and distances.
As new courses are being built, they are becoming increasingly longer. Anything fewer than 7,000 yards is now labeled short. When it comes to the PGA tour, over the last decade, courses have quickly been approaching 8,000 yards. Developments in club technology have made this “longer is better” mentality the industry standard.
250 yard Par 3 13th at Medinah Country Club
Great designs are being deemed outdated and unfit to host professional tournaments. In the worst cases, classic courses are being redesigned and lengthened to “keep up with the times.”  Courses built during the golden era of design are being mangled.
Masterfully short par 4 1st at Prestwick Golf Club
Where does the “progress” stop? Simply put, courses cannot become exponentially longer. Great designs are being ruined, and new championship designs are unplayable for the average golfer. The answer lies in creating new rules for golfing technology. Developing clubs that hit the ball infinitely further fuels the problem. When the governing bodies reign in one aspect of the club (clubfaces, MOI, etc), another loophole or feature is explored and exploited.
Short par 4 at Champion Hills Golf Club
The answer is not easy or simple. An obvious option doesn’t lie in the club head or shaft, but instead in the ball. Distance limited balls could be instituted to ease the need for monster courses. What are your opinions? Should course continue to grow or does something need to happen with the equipment?


  1. One thing that you are certainly right about, thought you only mention in passing is the fact that these championship courses are not playable for average golfers. I remember reading something in Golf Digest a few years back that said that scores and distances among average golfers have not gotten better. Twenty years ago the average golf score was 100 and the average drive was 200... and that's still the case today. All of this focus on equipment has made people forget about practicing and taking lessons. However, pros know how to incorporate both. This is why the gap between pros and average golfers is widening. It is really sad for me to see old courses go out of the tournament cycle; however, it is almost equally sad to me when I play golf at nice (challenging) courses and see that the course is basically unplayable for my playing partners. Something has to be done to preserve the integrity of the game.

  2. Unfortunately I think it's a case of "after the horse has bolted". The long courses are here and we can watch the pro's shot 60 off the tiger tees and enjoy them ourselves off the yellows.
    I personally think there is not a massive problem. I'm a 13 handicapper who hits the ball about 210yrds off the tee. I've played some championship courses this year albeit off yellows (or maybe whites) and I feel the emphasis is on keeping the ball on the fairway and putting well.
    I played Dornoch this year, a course I loved, and due to the run on great fairways my drives were probably 20-30 yards further than on the parkland courses I play in England. Castle Stuart was the same; in fact I thought the fairways were very generous.
    I think people of my standard should relish the great equipment available and visit the monster courses and enjoy the scenery and the build quality, taking whatever score you can shot on the day
    Sometimes, especially in Scotland, you can be playing the weather as well. Agreed this is when golf gets tough. My 210yrds can become 170-180yards and this is when we have to accept 30 points as a good score for the day.
    To sum up I think there is nothing wrong with courses up to 8000yards as long as there are plenty of tee boxes for us amateurs. I think we need to lose the macho attitude that we have to play off the pro's tees and go and enjoy these courses off a length that suits. I ceratinly would not have one set of equipment for pros and another for amateurs.
    Go play golf everywhere and enjoy yourself.

  3. Personally as an average (10 handicapper) most courses old and new remain playable from the whites or the yellow. Yes some newer ones are terrifying off the tips but these are for competitions and it is suppose to be hard then.

    I play at Royal Ascot and at 6,300 it isn't long by modern standards and is a par 70. We have hosted a number of pro events and no-one has ever really taken it apart so you have to argue that the course designers got it right. Our medals are usually one with a score a couple under and in Division 1 of stablefords 38 is usually very competitive.

    I think there is a place for the new and there are places that are relatively new (Bearwood Lakes) that have grown and raised the bar high. I think you have to consider who is going to use course regularly and that is going to be members and visitors and so it has to give a value for money challenge. It has to have instant impact and playabilty and that is a hard combination to get right

  4. Thank you guys for the comments! Rather than the difference between pro's length and amateur length, one of the main points of the post is that the development of club technology to this point has made old, classic courses "outdated." In a lot of cases the courses are being redesigned and butchered just to keep up with the times.

    Modern courses are being designed with pro length in mind, and as aforementioned, there are multiple sets of tees to cover all bases. If technology continues in its current trend, these "modern" courses will be considered too short and outdated within the next 80-100 years.

    Preserving great courses from the golden age of course design is definitely something to keep in mind as time goes on.

    Let's keep the comments coming!!

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