Jenkins: How much longer and tighter can courses get?

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post (reg req.) looks at Baltusrol and wonders what's becoming of major championship setups.

Woods's struggle at Baltusrol begs a question, and it's a question that governing bodies of golf have avoided thus far, but which they are going to have to face head on at some point soon. How long can they continue to protect golf courses against burgeoning technology? It's an issue that Woods has helped to force, with his length and ability to make a world-class course look like miniature golf. More and more, courses are gimmicked-up in an attempt to preserve par and control scoring. Even Augusta National is adding 155 yards to its length.

Some courses, according to Woods, have become so tricked up that they resemble "elephant burial grounds." But at a certain point, we are going to run out of ways to manipulate the acreage. What then? How much longer and tighter can courses become without completely distorting them, and the basic values of golf? The most sensible solution is to impose limits on technology, or to use a softer covered, standardized ball that won't travel as far. So far, the ruling bodies have declined to look at such solutions, because it would mean two different standards.

The equipment companies say they don't want pros playing one game, and amateurs playing another. But the reality is that we're already doing that now. How many amateurs can play a 650-yard par 5? When we gin up a tournament venue so dramatically, make it as brutal as it can be for one week, we create another standard. Isn't it easier to control the balls and clubs, than to stretch courses or distort them beyond recognition, until virtually half the field is eliminated on the first tee? Baltusrol is playing fairly -- barely.

Woods's opening round was the fault of his own errant swings. But we're seeing a suggestion here of what happens when the landscape is continually manipulated. Make a course too long, and you eliminate shorter ball strikers. Make it too narrow, and it becomes leveling and the ability of a Woods is totally negated. Either way, it neutralizes skill level -- which is exactly the opposite of what tournament golf should do.
Jenkins raises a question I hope to someday a governing body will contemplate: at what point is a fairway too narrow? Is it 20 yards? 15? 10? The width of a ball?