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State Of The Game Clippings: While You Were On Holiday Edition

While many of you were away enjoying the Thanksgiving, the Links Trust of St. Andrews issued a Friday afternoon press release announcing that nine of the Old Course's holes would see the first genuine man-made changes to the most sacred ground on the golfing planet that countless architects have tried to replicate with little success: the Old Course green contours and surrounds.

Several of the areas in question were last moved by the ocean centuries ago. Major changes to bunkers have only been for maintenance or evolutionary reasons, with the last recorded alteration of a bunker location dating to 1949. The plan, by architect Martin Hawtree in coordination with the R&A and approved by the Links Trust, makes the recent tees built for the Open Championship outside the Old Course boundaries look sensitive and endearing.

Especially when they finally figured out whether they were in bounds or not.

Yet while you were away, news of this Mona Lisa-nose job crystallized the issue before us that many of you have been well aware of: the governing bodies, and in this case the R&A, will go to stunning lengths to mask regulatory malfeasance by rigging a course to get a higher winning score so that no one notices how badly they've done their job. Or as Stephen Gallacher put it, they're scared of a 59 over the Old Course that is now very possible due to modern equipment.

Making the Old Course situation all the more fascinating is the tension surrounding by this week's possible announcement of a USGA/R&A ban on anchoring putters against the torso, and the overall realization that the game is led by people willing to go such lengths to not address the primary issue that they would risk defacing the most sacred grounds in the game.

So to recap the wacky holiday weekend and the perilous state of the game...

Gary Player kept his verbal assault on the governing bodies, more specifically the R&A, and this was before he had heard what they had planned for St. Andrews. Bifurcation was definitely on his mind.

Jim Achenbach used the belly putter ban we're likely to get this week or next to again raise the question of what good the governing bodies are doing for the everyday game. Another bifurcation supporter.

Bifurcation already exists, and they simply won’t admit it.

Touring pros play longer courses with firmer fairways and faster greens. Tees and bunkers are perfect. These pros adhere to the one-ball rule. Amateurs generally do not play under these conditions. Touring pros use equipment that is hand-selected and hand-checked. It is individually customized and modified. Pros have golf balls delivered each week to their lockers. Most amateurs do not have access to this equipment.

This is bifurcation. It reflects different conditions and different parameters for pros and amateurs.

John Huggan uses his visit to Australia to chat with leading players like Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter to point out there is more to the game than we are getting with the distance chase that has sadly prompted the R&A to subject St. Andrews to changes (and this was filed before that news broke).

Media coverage of the Old Course press release was paltry due to the Friday afternoon timing, the American holiday and the limited understanding of what the Old Course stands for within the architecture and history communities. Disappointingly, the SI Confidential passed even with Old Course observers Bamberger, Shipnuck and Van Sickle all in. 

However, architect Tom Doak has been leading an early campaign to get the Old Course work reconsidered by the Links Trust, issuing letters to the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects and the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association.

An excerpt:

I propose to make a petition to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club expressing that as a golf course architect, I feel that The Old Course is sacred ground, and that architectural changes should not be made to it unless necessary for the maintenance and health of the course.  I would like to know from each of you individually, whether you are interested in participating in this movement, and whether your organizations might be interested in participating as well.

He received a reply from ASGCA president Bob Cupp who likened the Old Course changes to "redesigning Chartres" and said of the ground features under siege: "The historic significance of those forms is immense, something that should be preserved at all cost, even if it is some low scores."

And historian Mark Bourgeois posted this on his website:

On 23 November 2012 Peter Dawson and Martin Hawtree selected themselves as the first humans in recorded history to change St Andrews' 11th green ("Eden"). Dawson and Hawtree decided they will change eight holes, in all, on The Old Course. This site is dedicated to the previous generations of architects, greenkeepers, and R&A officials who preserved and protected the 11th green and other architectural features original to The Old Course.

Please email the Links Trust and request a delay in these changes.

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Reader Comments (17)

I doubt that the tining of the press release was made in consideration of American Thanksgiving, a holiday virtually unknown in the UK. And the issue has no direct relevance to Americans anyway -- it is an R&A/St. Andrewsw matter.

However, it wsa quite clever to have it the week of Dubai, where most Europeans, particularly British, who care about golf would have their attention firmly on the Tournament. It would be interesting to know if any of the commentators on TV coverage made abything of this disastrous announcement.

Ironically, given my first paragraph comment above, it could well be the Americans' pressure that could cause a re-think, if such a thing is within the bounds of possibility. But it would help if some Brits would get off their backsides and lead the outcry. And, Mr. Player, wherever you are today, please continue shouting, and bring your friends.
11.25.2012 | Unregistered CommenterGhillie
You know when Mr Calloway introduced the Big Bertha, it was intended to allow the guy who was hitting a 5 iron to the green to maybe get in a position to hit an 8 iron to the green. If moving the tees back so that same fellow still has to hit a 5 iron to the green, how does that make the game better?
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Stevens
In the predictable ongoing debate of equipment vs. course length, I continually wonder why "par" is considered so sacred that such course redesigns or equipment restrictions are considered inevitable. Every other sport evolves, and we are not troubled when a 100-meter race or NFL passing record is broken. Why, then, should it trouble us if and when average golf scores drop? What exactly is the problem with a top-notch pro shooting 59 at the Old Course? Or 62 at the Masters? Or 64 at the U.S. Open?

It seems that the notion of par as 70-72 is a given, even as people are dreaming up 12-hole rounds and 8-inch cups in an effort to grow the game.

Maybe, just maybe, we DON'T need to roll back equipment and we DON'T need 8,200 yard courses. We just need to wrap our heads around the notion that pros might shoot in the high 50's or low 60's and that 250 might win a tournament at some point. We lowly amateurs, most of whom shoot around 100, might actually trend toward bogey golf or lower. Better amateurs might shoot in the 70's or even the 60's. Imagine all those things...are they really so awful?
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Not so fast, Chris. That "every other sport evolves" line doesn't work too well on this site. The controls MLB employed to protect the game (ball construction and a wood bat) were almost undone by PED's. In ther case of golf, the "juice" flows through the veins of the evolved ball and club.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
And then there were those "body suits" swimmers wore for about one Olympics cycle until FINA banned them because they were in effect "technological doping." I believe the PTB of Swimming told Speedo to take a long walk off a short pier. That said, the fact that Harold Abrahams ran on cinders in 3/4" spikes while Usain Bolt runs on a composition track with little cleats is a "natural" advance, kind of like smooth greens and fast fairways. That and the fact that Bolt can make $20 million a year while Abrahams had to get a job shortly after the 1924 Olympics. The domesticated Pinnacle and the 460cc titanium trampoline-faced drivers are akin the to banned swimsuits, a form of technological doping that results in the 330-yard carry (plus another 30 yards of roll) off the tee followed by the 220-yard 7-iron to the middle of the green. That crap has no meaning to us, but it has necessitated the defacement of classic courses that changed only incrementally from the early 1930s until a few years ago. That is just plain stupid right there, I don't care who you are. And the PTB of Golf are going to ban the anchored putter as a result. Yeah, that'll work.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
The last two comments missed my point, I think. Look, I'm all for (belatedly) doing something with the pro ball, or the clubface or whatever. I really am. But my question wasn't about equipment, or doping, it was about a number. Why are we stuck on the number 72? Why couldn't the number be 60? Would it kill the game? Maybe it would...I'm just asking the question. It just seems that everyone accepts as a given that we need to have a particular winning score and then the governing bodies set about to make that score happen. I just don't know why that obvious variable is the most sacrosanct.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Yes, there can be limits on equipment in golf -- similar to regulations about baseball bats, football helmuts, etc -- but it's really about the ball. In what other professional sport is the player or team allowed to bring the ball they'd like to play with? There simply should be one designated (and controlled) ball that all PGA players must play in all tournaments in any given year. And the company that makes the ball can be rotated every year, or all companies can agree to make the same "pro" ball if they want to keep their name (ad) on the surface.

And spare us the talk of lost revenue for the golf ball companies... Just because baseball, football, basketball, soccer, et al, use one designated ball during any season does not stop sporting goods stores from carrying any number of alternatives (even of different sizes...). Get rid of the fancy word "bifurcation" and there is no problem. Let any scratch golfer who wants to compare himself/herself to the pros play with the designated pro ball. Let everyone else play any other available ball after all of them are dialed back a bit to some reasonable distance that still allows the amateur to not feel like he's hitting a balata...

As for St. Andrews "redesigning" the Old Course, I guess that changes the age old question from "Is nothing sacred?" to "Is nothing spared?"
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRLL
KLG nailed it. Nothing more for me to add to his well stated points!
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPete the Luddite
@Chris: Would it kill the game? Maybe. As my friend D. maculata pointed out, the equivalent in MLB would have been to allow aluminum bats and a hot ball, which would have made every ballpark obsolete in an instant and rendered the third baseman extinct. The alternative would be moving the bases to 120 feet apart and move the mound back to 75-90 feet. Fences? Maybe 510 to dead center and 400 down the lines? But then neither the shortstop in the hole nor the third baseman down the line would be able to get the ball to first base in the air. The eephus pitch would have made a necessary comeback, too. Par is indeed just a number and seems to be a fetish with the USGA. But reducing par from 70-72 to 60 would represent a qualitative change in the game. These changes have happened before, i.e., featherie-gutty-Haskell, but the last major transition was about 110 years ago:
Note the presence of John Shippen tied for fifth with Willie Anderson!
Anyway, there was room for change then, the Game and Business of Golf were small, and the new equilibrium was established within a few years and lasted until Titleist figured out at the turn of this century how to make a solid ball that behaved off the clubface of an iron. As I have pointed out here before, several times, the original yardage at ANGC was 6820 in 1934 and was only about 100-150 yards longer 70 years later. The rest is very unfortunate recent history that is the result of complete fecklessness on the part of those who look out for "the good of the game." Maybe Hootie should have gone to a "Masters Ball" instead of moving the first tee back to the practice green and planting Hootie Wood on the 11th and between the 15th and 17th, among other things. That would have gotten the attention of the denizens of Far Hills. And ANGC could have with impunity told the Marketing Juggernaut to take that long walk off a short pier. Alas.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
In life and in history, there are lines of demarcation. Lines in the sand, if you wish. (Or in the linksland.) The Rubicon. The straw that breaks the camel's back. The bridge too far.

This is where we are, in the golf equipment technology debate. It was inevitable.

The one thing that I'd like to add to this debate (Geoff has laid out the basic protest in his typically incisive prose) is that so many of us knew very well, a long time ago, that this is precisely where we would end up. This was bound to happen. Not just predictable, but actually predicted. And actually debated, on my part, with that great spokesman for casual attention to golf equipment regulation, E. Michael Johnson of Golf Digest. More than a half-dozen years ago I suggested to him that equipment technology would make The Old course obsolete; and then what? Johnson's written reply to me was that championships could move on to other venues. It might be a net good for him, he said, if it opened up more nice old courses to our class of recreational players.

And if it came to that, I might actually agree with Johnson. I'd rather the R&A leave The Old Course alone, and find another place to play the Open Championship, than butcher the historical contours of the course to serve the needs of tour players' Pro V1's.

And that's the problem for the R&A. They naturally do want to go back to St. Andrews, for their own reasons, but they have failed to keep control of the equipment so as to insure that TOC was still a relevant test.

We saw this coming, long ago. The Tom Doak petition drive should not be viewed as weird, or radical or some new response. It is the result of the R&A already having done laughable things (building tees out of bounds, etc.) and having not taken note of the ridicule. Years ago.

I think Tom Doak's petition drive should be made public and posted online, with a .pdf of each signature for worldwide viewing. If every great architect and every great player from the present and the past all sign it (including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els); and if Billy Payne, Hootie Johnson and Condi Rice sign it; and if every living U.S. President signed it (non-golfer Jimmy Carter excepted); and if every Ryder Cup captain of the last 30 years signed it; and Jack and Arnie and Gary all signed it together in a press conference held in the press barn at Augusta; and we got to a point where (just guessing) the only people in golf who haven't signed it are contracted to Acushnet or are employed by the PGA, the Tours, the R&A and the USGA... well, then there's a story. And we'll have much more to talk about.

Michael Corleone, in a scene with Sonny and Tom Hagen:

Michael Corleone: Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?
Tom Hagen: Come on, Mikey...
Michael Corleone: Tom, wait a minute. I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a - a - a dishonest cop - a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Tom?
[Tom nods]
Michael Corleone: And they might like a story like that.
Tom Hagen: They might, they just might.
Michael Corleone: [to Sonny] It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
KLG-Brilliant summation-we can only hope somebody listens
11.26.2012 | Unregistered Commenterchico
I sent the Links Trust an email message telling them if they go through with these changes I have played my last round at The Old Course. As hard as it is, I will never go back. It is wrong to change such hollowed ground for tournament golf.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan King
Titleist Professional ball........If we can get back to that, which shouldn't be that hard(Professional Tours) I think most of these classic courses can be saved. Pro Tours must have a uniform ball.

Congrats to the Architects for making a stand or at least stating their displeasure. It has to start somewhere.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
The mound would have to come in to 45 feet...
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
@Dan King, unhappily I will join you. I guess if we don't stand for something we'll fall for anything.

But it's okay, we can go back in 10 years after they put everything back.
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark Bourgeois
Mark "Bourgeois" sounds about right!
11.26.2012 | Unregistered CommenterStord
Who's sending the letter to Mother Nature telling her to keep her hands of the sacred contours of the land at St. Andrews?
11.28.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent

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