Blind shots and the modern obsession with fairness...

A couple of Summers ago I was lucky enough to be playing golf at Muirfield with a great friend, The Colonel. The Colonel used to be a general in the army. He’s known as the Colonel at Muirfield and he’s one of those great people one would only meet through the shared passion for golf. As we walked down the 11th hole which is the only blind tee shot at Muirfield he explained something very interesting to me. That in the early 1900s and through out the golden age of golf course architecture blind tee shots were something of a delicacy. Most men had done national service. In those days that meant they had developed the art of assessing ground using their eyes. They had a far more evolved ability to understand how far they were from small reference points and there fore where they needed to aim a shot when the fairway or green was not in view. Mackenzie himself was a master of camouflage through his army service. 

These days golfers seem to view any kind of blind shot as somehow unfair. The whole thing makes me wonder what other skills golfers have lost because of the modern obsession with ‘fairness’ and the technology that runs through the sport. Certainly the widespread use of rangefinders or GPS devises has meant most golfers aren’t willing to hit a shot with out an exact yardage. I have really tried to leave the range finder in the bag recently and its surprising to see how good we can be at judging distance the old fashioned way. Incredibly satisfying to be self-sufficient and do the whole thing with out assistance.

Many golfer’s are using so called game improvement irons, the bulbous round sole and hard metal face means its hard for them to discern a great strike from an average one which ultimately slows down their learning. I just saw on GOLFWRX that Tomas Pieters has stamped the yardage he hits each club on the club. The world of golf is systematically sucking the juice and magic out of the game in the name of progress.

The cross roads we face today to combat the perceived struggles of the game could go either way. More fairness, tech and fundamental changes to the game or a winding back to the core of the game. As time goes on I think I prefer the later; golf as a game to take us away from the chaos of our modern life.

My philosophy on making clubs is based on clubs that will make YOU better, compliment the way YOU use the club, provide the perfect interaction and feel amazing. Clubs that simply tidy up your bad shots take a very short term view in keeping with the outlook of the companies which promote and sell them.

 

 

Lets get back to the game

I recently attended the PGA Show in Orlando for the 16th time running. Our little crew of friends were all there and we had some fun. We did’nt look around the show very much. The whole thing feels disingenuous and miles away from the game. The best way to describe the show is that the majority of the products are based on one assumption; golfers will buy anything. My hope is sometime in the future we find a new generation of golfers who just want the game, who just want to experience the game. Maybe this will rise out of the ashes of this world of golf we see at the PGA Show. The one that seems doomed and to be honest deserves that fate.

Golf is a competitive game but maybe golfers have got their competitive desires out of whack with the realities of their situation. After all unless you’re a tour player and its life and death we play this game for recreation and the experience should be treasured. It feels like most golfers have been asked to buy into the message being served up to them. They’ve been told they should approach the game in the same way as the pros: performance with in the rules and get any edge you can. If its all about winning then fair enough but any recreational golfer who approaches the game that way is missing out. The professional game we watch on TV is a show made by the world of golf. The game can be what ever we want it to be. What about playing the game with out a range finder and no yardages? Being able to look at a target and hit a shot on line and the right distance with nothing more than the senses we were born with is a great pleasure and great skill. Most golfers today can’t play with out exact yardages. What’s magical about golf is every now and again we surprise ourselves by hitting a shot we could never achieve through conscious thought and calculation.

Recently I started playing more and more rounds using persimmon woods. Obviously its lead to a frenzy of persimmon purchases which has been fun! In terms of playing all I can say is it gives me more, its more juicy. The good ones are more rewarding. They’re not as far behind the modern stuff as you might think, 20 back on carry but more run out. The bad ones however, the ones you miss just a little bit, they’re not only way back but curve a lot more. When I stand in the car park at the golf club selecting clubs from the boot selection I’m reaching for the blocks more and more. I feel like I am addicted to the good ones. Its making me better, when I don’t catch the drive I have to scramble, hit long irons and chip and putt well. Its more fun and I’ve had some decent scores. Maybe its time to take a different view on performance and consider what we really want from the game. If I decide to use the blocks all season this year maybe my handicap will be higher (maybe it won’t) but will I be less competitive? There are no shortcuts in golf because the game has integrity, the message being sold to golfers chips away at that integrity and eats away at the soul of the game.

The hot topic at the moment is whether the game’s governing bodies with gain some level of competence in regulating the equipment for the pros but what about a bit of self regulation? What about golfers deciding what they want the game to be? What we watch on TV seems to be considered as the ‘game’ but in fact it’s a TV show sponsored by manufacturers taking a short term view on profit. The future of the game is just not in the mandate from the their shareholders. The game is being played all over the world by millions of golfers and they can do what ever they want. If 30% of the golfers on the planet decided they wanted to strip the game back, get rid of the buggies, the power trollies, the alignment sticks, the range finders, the resort courses etc. the future of the game would be safe in their hands. All we need to do is play the game in the spirit of its founding fathers. This massive bulbous side show provided by the ‘world of golf’ is actually just noise and irrelevant if golfers can get back to paying the game the way its meant to be played. Healthy competition but first and foremost going about it in the right way.

 

Golf is dead, long live golf

 

Sometimes with all the noise its hard to see what’s really going on in the world of golf. Seeing all the hype around TaylorMade’s new driver release and the hysteria around how far DJ is hitting the ball you have to wonder if the version of golf the business of golf cultivates is sustainable and what the long term might look like. What seems certain to me is that TV ratings and equipment sales are really what the world of golf is built around. Participation seems to be secondary and at every opportunity viewers are reminded that they can’t do it, have flaws and need to buy into the world of golf teaching in order to be a golfer.

Granted I’m sure if I was new to the game I would be blown away by shot tracer and seeing the launch and distance numbers but its got very little to do with the game. I feel the same about things like Top Golf or Foot Golf, the world of golf seems to think these are the shining lights but they aren’t golf. I’m sure they’re great fun and successful businesses but we have to wait 600 years to see if they measure up to golf, and they won’t.

In my opinion sadly the battle is lost. The governing bodies have lost the battle against the corporations. This is a quote from an article in the Guardian before the release of the Michael Moore documentary The Corporation:

“Bakan is a Canadian law professor whose brief is as well-ordered, concise and sober as the accusation is grave: behind its benevolent face, he argues, the most important institution of modern capitalism is a Frankenstein's monster that has broken its chains and is now consuming the society that created it.”

The big players in the golf industry have only one interest and that’s short term profits. Any company who uses the term “grow the game” is part of the problem. The moment the professional’s started to run the majority of their own tournaments (TV) the battle lines were set and its been a slow burn. A sign of things to come was the anchoring ban a few years back. The PGA Tour were very close under pressure from its members to create its own rule allowing players to continue anchoring. This would have been the beginning of a professional game separated from the amateur game completely (golf WWF!). The R and A and USGA will introduce a tournament ball pretty soon because if they don’t Augusta will. So the decision to do so is really to avoid the accusation of total and utter negligence. Lower compression and higher spinning balls will help but in the end it won’t even reduce distance by 10%. The higher spin will create a slight premium on ball striking skill (good) but the players will get around it by slight changes in driver spec (lower spin). The issue is that modern drivers require far lass precision so players can hit them as hard as they like, its so bad that two generations of golfer have grown up hitting the ball as hard as they can, its all they know. They is no chance that at this late stage the governing bodies can do anything meaningful at all.

The real problem is the battle between the game and the business. TV coverage is making the distance madness part of the entertainment and as a result making the stakes higher. Even though the USGA and R and A have massive cash reserves they do not have the resolve to take on the business of golf. Plus they fear the players power. Add to that the mob rule of social media and its fair to say the horse has bolted.

So what will rise out of the ashes? The game of golf that’s what because none of this has anything to do with game. People who understand and love the game will carry on playing, and when the locusts have left the field golfers will still be playing the game the way its always been played. Long live golf.

 

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