Lengthening In Response to Technology

In advance of this week's Funai Classic, Steve Elling explores the trend of lengthening Tour courses. Warning, I'm quoted.


With a record tour 25 players averaging over 300 yards per drive -- that's 10 more guys than last year's all-time high -- courses are going long, too. Next year at the Bob Hope Classic, a new layout called the Classic Course at NorthStar will be added to the four-course rotation. It'll be 7,536 yards.

Driving distances have grown so quickly that there has been talk of using a standardized tour ball, the golf equivalent of NASCAR's restrictor-plate racing. For years, the equipment makers operated with relative impunity, making clubheads the size of toasters, graphite shafts as long as fishing poles and balls so hot that the world's plutonium supply probably dwindled. Before golf's governing bodies, the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club, finally put some limitations on club performance characteristics, setting actual limits three years ago, the horsepower was out of the barn.

And for the first time, Frank Thomas is more direct on his final years as USGA testing director, with a direct reference to his interest in curbing optimization while at the USGA.

"They failed to act for legal reasons, not for the best interests of golf," said Orlando's Frank Thomas, the USGA's chief technical director from 1974-2000. "I warned them, but nobody wanted to face a potential lawsuit [from manufacturers]."

More Elling:

Of the 39 primary courses in continual use on tour over the past decade, Disney became the 16th to add at least 100 yards; another dropped its par by two strokes to keep pace. In the same 10-year period, driving distance -- the average of all tour players -- has risen 25 yards, to 289 yards. Disney simply counter-punched.

This from Tiger, who tries to dispel the myth that longer players would be unfairly targeted by a rollback or increase in ball spin:

"The further you hit, the more technology is going to help you," Woods said last month. "Hey, I am one of the guys that if they did roll the ball back, it would help me out a little bit. Any long guy who hits the ball long and high would have more of an advantage because now we're having to hit longer irons into the greens, while other guys are having to hit hybrids and woods."

And just as you might have been praising Thomas for bold and direct comments, he offered this to Elling:

Thomas argues that changing the ball is "rewriting the whole rulebook for perhaps the top 400 people in the world, or the top one-thousandth of 1 percent of the golfing population, which is insane." Instead, he favors pinching the width of fairways and growing the rough, which would make players think twice before mindlessly bashing a driver.

Because that has worked so well and will do so much to enhance enjoyment of the sport.

What Thomas doesn't say is that the equipment rulebook could be re-written to deal with those top 400 in a way that would slow down the madness of lengthening and narrowing courses, without significantly impacting 99% of the golfing population. His proposed optimization testing would have done just this.

He's [Thomas] also pushing a semi-heretical notion -- trimming the number of clubs a pro can carry from 14 to 10.

Now that is one anti-corporate, technophobic cure that is guranteed to effect 99% of the golfing population.