TGC on Lengthening Debate

The September 13 The Golf Channel's "Golf Central" looked at the issue of lengthening courses in response to stunning Tour driving distance increases. They first talked to some Tour players and asked them how they would respond to 350 yard tee shots. Thanks to TiVo, here's what they said.

Mark O’Meara: "Narrow it by more tree lined golf courses, because the big guys can play out of the rough, but they can’t play out of the trees. More treelined, smaller greens, more rough around the greens. So if you miss the green it’s more penile. Not necessarily is lengthening the right answer.

Yes, he said penile. I checked four times.  I'll let you look up penile in the dictionary. And who said Freud didn't know what he was talking about?

Chris DiMarco: "I think they need to add bunkers where they were supposed to be. Maybe on the right on a hole add another bunker 25-30 yards ahead of it, to where now the guys hit to the left of it."

Mark Calcaveccia: "I think basically it’s just narrow fairways and high rough is the best way to do it. And firm, fast greens. Look at Merion, how difficult that course played for the U.S. Amateur guys, I don’t know what we’d have shot there, but I don’t think it’d be that low."

Yes, it's all about score prevention. The game should turn inwards on itself (Max Behr's line).

TGC returned to set up an interview clip with 84 Lumber Classic host Joe Hardy, who has lengthened his course each of the last three years at a reported cost of $7 million (!?). He has also narrowed the Mystic Rock fairways and shrunk several greens down. Here's what Mr. Hardy had to say:

They make these heads bigger on the drivers. They make them fast. They keep saying they’re going to limit it. They’re not going to limit it. These places that are tucked in, I don’t know what they’re going to do. But here we have so much space. We got 2,800 acres. So we just move it here, move it there, move it there. So it’s really neat. So it’s very contemporary with the way these guys can hit the ball now.

Ah but that was just the appetizer. TGC then had Rich Lerner standing with Steve Smyers in front of a studio flatscreen with helicopter fly-bys of classic courses rolling during their chat. Smyers, who will be joining the USGA Executive Committe in February, is already right on the organizational talking points.

Rich Lerner: Steve, you’re okay with golf courses at 7,400 yards for the Tour professional. Why?

Steve Smyers: For the elite player I am. What we want to do is test, uh, give the ultimate examination and to do that we need to put a variety of clubs in their hand.

RL: So you want Tiger and Vijay in the course of 18 holes to maybe hit a 4-iron into a par-4.

SS: Exactly right. I think that’s the whole key and I think that’s why I’m embracing what’s happening in the game today. We as designers have the ability to design real short, interesting, spectacular short holes. Par 4s in the 300-330 yard range. Follow it up with a beautiful long par-4 of 500 yards.

Sorry to interrupt here. But he's saying embracing the lengthening of courses to 7400 yards and up, but then saying we should build short par-4s too in the 300-330 yard range? Don't you love how the 500-yard par 4 as become acceptable. Please continue...

RL: There are critics, guys like Nick Price, one of the greatest of the last 20 years. Nick might say, it’s all brute force now.

SS: You know I look at Nick Price. To me, he is my hero. He and Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino. Great shot makers. Could really work the golf ball. And you know, he’s right, I mean, the 240 yard lineman in the NFL is a, a thing of the past.

RL: Alright, forgetting the Tour pro for a moment. Average players. I just played a course in Pennsylvania. Public course named Willowbrook outside of Allentown, P-A that was 5,800 yards. It was absolutely a blast to play. My friends and I came away and said we need more courses like this. It would improve the pace of play. Might just be more fun.

SS: I agree. But we’re talking about two different types of players. The average drive on the PGA Tour is 285 yards. The R&A did extensive study, as well as the USGA, on what the average club player, weekend player, how far they hit it. They’ve done these studies over the last fifteen years. Handicaps range from 5-12, the average tee shot for the player was 202 yards. For almost every year. So we’re talking about two totally different caliber players.

RL: When people say, "I hit it 250, 275, 300 yards…"

SS: They don’t hit it as far as they think and their average is not nearly as far as they think.

Seems to me that Smyers is saying we have two different games. So don't we need two sets of rules?

Also, does anyone wonder how this divide occurred in the last five years?  Just guys working out? 

The segment was out of time, but a nice follow up for Smyers would have been: "Why do we build most new courses for this Tour game that is totally different than the game being played at the Willowbrooks of the world?"