Elling on Thomas Study

Steve Elling talks to Frank Thomas about his recent study and also offers a sidebar of Thomas's ways to grow the game. Plenty of great ideas and a wonderful message. 

But it's hard to understand how he can lament the commercialization of the sport while also suggesting that the answer to increased distance is in restricting course setup or lowering the 14-club limit, not through sound rulesmaking.
"We've completely lost touch with why we play the game," Thomas said.

Other highlights from Elling's story:

The survey revealed nothing that will shock the cropped socks off most golfers but bolstered every theoretical notion about the drain of players from the game. Most golfers play from the wrong tees, vastly overestimate how far they can hit the ball and spend five hours enduring their masochism. Then they go home and put the clubs away for a month.

Thomas' fundamental fix will cause golf developers and course owners to recoil. Simply put, he wants to build or modify existing courses to more capably -- if not forcibly -- suit the everyman, not the .55 percent of the population that are scratch golfers.

He mentioned to designer Jack Nicklaus at the Father/Son Challenge last month that he'd like to see more courses built at a maximum of 6,500 yards in length, not the 7,500-yard monsters carved for tour-quality players. That way, John Q. Publinks would have more fun and play from more reasonable tees, likely at a lower cost.

It's insanely logical, to coin a phrase.

"He laughed and said, 'Frank, if I built a 6,200-yard course, I wouldn't have any more clients,' " Thomas said.


As it stands, new courses have turned into a veritable arms race, with designers and builders often trying to out-glitz the next guy. The average player needs the opportunity to roll the ball onto the green and should not be asked to execute a 5-iron to an elevated green over a yawning bunker complex into a stiff headwind.

"We've got to turn this corner because commercialism has taken a severe toll on the game," he said.

The results of Thomas' survey are posted at franklygolf.com, with honest suggestions and his analysis of current trends set to be unveiled over the coming months.

"The object is to get people to enjoy the game more," he said. "The work we're doing, we hope to accomplish that."

He's just getting warmed up. Given his old pedigree as the USGA's equipment gatekeeper -- no legal balls or clubs reached the market without his department's say-so -- he's been mulling the hot-button technology issues of the day, too. You think his course-design ideas sound like heresy?

"I am going to propose that tour players compete with only 10 clubs," he said.