Why Make Golf Courses Longer?
By Betsey Mitchell
Special to The Pilot
While driving to the grocery store, I was thinking about golf. I think about golf a lot, probably more than I should. I can’t help myself. So this is what popped into my head.
The football field has been 100 yards long and 531⁄3 yards wide since 1881. (OK, so I looked that part up.) Hockey rinks are the same size they were in the 1950s. Bowling alleys are still 60 feet long, with 10 pins at the end.
Football and hockey players are taller, wider and faster than they have ever been, but the sizes of their competition arenas remain unchanged. Professional bowlers can regularly throw a perfect game, but that hasn’t caused the Professional Bowling Association to tinker with the lanes.
So why are golf courses getting longer? Just because Bubba can hit his driver 400 yards doesn’t mean the course should be longer.
When did length become the measure of greatness in golf? Watch any highlight reel from a golf tournament and consider how often the long drive is the subject. It doesn’t play well on television. The excitement is always about wicked wedges, the crazy recovery out of the trees, and putts snaked in on a surface better suited for roller skates.
If the USGA had kept the competition courses at 6,800 yards, maybe the champion would have finished 25 under par. Is that so bad? How is that different from a perfect game in bowling?
Besides, if they left the course length alone, the pros would spend more time perfecting the impossible shot rather than living in the gym to gain 20 yards in the fairway. Chi Chi and Trevino were a lot more fun to watch than these robo-golfers who dominate the fairways today.
Although it is regularly denied, all indications are that the USGA worships almighty par. They will doodle with course setup for two years to keep the pros from clobbering par. What difference does it make? After all, the lowest score wins no matter how red the number is.
However, if it troubles the USGA that much, instead of adjusting the golf course to defend against advancing player ability, just create “Professional Par.”
That would not be contrary to the USGA prime directive that the rules of golf apply universally to amateur and professional. There isn’t even a definition for the word “par” in the rules of golf.
The great traditions of this game were never about who can hit the ball the farthest. They were about who could be the most accurate, about who could think their way out of a pickle. It’s supposed to be a thinking man’s game. Imagine the game if the professional had to play a short par-4 with a nasty dogleg and putt poanna greens stimping at a wobbly eight-and-a-half. Now that’s entertainment.
(Whenever I get to talking about golf with my sister, who never played a sport in her life, her eyes start to glaze over. On the off chance that she might read this, here is a translation of that last bit: A dogleg is a bend in the fairway. The hole could be 425 yards long, but if there is an elbow halfway down the road, it doesn't give the long hitter an advantage. Poanna is a kind of grass used on greens that can get very uneven late in the day, as in “not perfect.” A stimp meter is used to measure how fast a golf ball will roll on the green. The pros like greens running at 11 or faster. If you make them putt on a really slow green, it makes them crazy.)
Anyway, I’m thinking it’s time to stop building courses to fit the player’s game and start demanding that the player compete on the field provided — no matter how short it may be.
Betsey Mitchell is a freelance writer living in Pinehurst. As a volunteer rules official and member of the N.C. Golf Panel, she gets to see hundreds of golf courses in North Carolina. She is a regular contributor to Carolinas Golf magazine and Triad/Triangle Golf Today.
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