Coltart: "Golf has so little culture today"

John Huggan catches up with Andrew Coltart, who has plenty to say about the state of the game. My kind of rant:
"The explosion in distance that has come with the new clubs and balls over the last few years has hurt players like me. I can't comprehend how far some guys hit the ball now. It used to be that the wide, erratic hitter was punished, but that is not the case any more. Not as much anyway."

Underlining the sad truth that golf at the elite level is now more about power than pure skill is the fact that Coltart's average drive has stretched by more than 15 yards since he battled Tiger Woods at Brookline in 1999. As he has grown more powerful, however, many of his fellow competitors have exploded past him, encouraged by the lack of due diligence shown by golf's administrators when it comes to equipment.

"Courses on tour today are set up to encourage players to bomb away off the tee," claims Coltart. "Which is admittedly exciting, especially for the less sophisticated spectator or viewer. But it doesn't help guys like me, those whose games are built around accuracy.

"Then there are the sprinkler systems courses tend to have in the fairways, but not anywhere else. The water runs off into the first couple of yards of rough. That grass gets thick in a hurry. But ten yards further out, the rough isn't nearly as lush. So the bombers get more encouragement. They get to hit from relatively sparse rough and they are 60 yards closer to the green.

"Also, greens are generally too soft. So the big hitters are able to 'plug' wedges and 9-irons in there. In contrast, hard and fast greens would encourage a bit more thinking, and make the game a bit more strategic. But playing for position never enters the long driver's head these days. Every hole is a 'wellie' off the tee, and a gouge from the rough. I see so many guys making birdies from the long grass and the trees - because they are so close to the green after the drive. It's mind-blowing."

Coltart is not only concerned with the negative effect all of the above has had on his career. Unlike so many others, he recognises the wider and longer-term implications for golf.

"I think the game has diminished over the last decade or so," he says with a shake of the head. "Shot-making and shaping have all but gone. Round the greens we all play the same boring lob shot with our 60-degree wedges. Golf today is a lot like tennis. They stand up there and it is 'smash' 15-love, 'smash' 30-love and 'smash' 40-love.

"But few people are watching that. Instead, they are looking at the clock that says the ball was hit at 150mph or whatever. Now, golf is all about the 350-yard drive. There have apparently been 881 drives longer than that on the PGA Tour so far this year. Success is measured on distance from the tee rather than tournaments won. It's a circus.

"The mass appeal of distance has overtaken any other approach to the game. Golf has so little culture today. It was great when Seve was playing the way he did. He was artistic. Where is the artistry now? There is no artistry. Or feel. Ask a young guy to hit a little knock-down shot into a green, and he a) doesn't know how, and b) wonders why he should bother. It's depressing.

"I never see guys holding shots up against the wind. The money has a lot to do with that. They figure they can go for the flag every week. When they are on, they will shoot eight under par and win a huge cheque. And when they are off, well, there is always next week.

"If they were baseball players, they would all be home-run hitters who strike out a lot."