Golf Expert & Columnist
Reducing distance will benefit better players and classic courses, says Andrew Coltart
Last Updated: 04/02/20 6:28pm
After golf's authorities announced measures to halt the "undesirable" increases in hitting distances, Andrew Coltart welcomes the Distance Insight Report findings and believes the big winners are better players and classic courses...
A two-year study conducted by the R&A and USGA has resulted in proposals to limit the advances in equipment technology, with the governing bodies admitting that the modern golf ball is going too far and in danger of rendering some historic courses obsolete.
Thinning the herd
The better golfers, the better and more consistent ball-strikers, will ultimately benefit from this. In the modern game, it's unfortunate that people are confusing the quality of golfers with distance.
It should be all about control, reading the lies, reading the conditions, and all the best players in the world are multi-dimensional. It's got to do with the ability to keep the ball low into the wind, hitting high when it's downwind, holding the ball up into a crosswind, and the forgotten art of shot-shaping.
Ever since distance became the number one priority, many of those skill-sets are just not required.
It's not just the ball and the technology, there are many other defining factors, most notably being able to get away with a mis-hit that still ends up in play, whereas a few years ago the ball would have disappeared off the planet!
Top level golf should be all about the quality of golfer, the quality of the swing, and the consistency of the swing and knowing what your golf swing is all about. These factors, over the last 20 years, just have not been a necessary attribute to become a top player.
It will definitely mean a thinning of the herd at the top of the game, and we'll gradually see an end to the types of players who, over the last 20 or 30 years, have made an incredible amount of money despite not being what I would describe as high-quality golfers.
Impact on veterans?
In the last few weeks we've seen the likes of Lee Westwood (46) and Graeme McDowell (40) striking a blow for the more experienced players with big wins on the European Tour, but will these proposals affect the over-40s adversely?
I actually think the changes will affect the likes of Lee and Graeme in a positive way, and I think we could see them contending on a more regular basis.
These are guys that know how to play the golf ball, on all types of courses and in all conditions. These are guys that have withstood the massive advances in golf club and ball technology and maintained a level that can compete on Tour.
Their success is nothing to do with length, it's got everything to do with golfing knowledge and ability, so I take my hat off to them for their performances this year and I hope today's report will enhance their chances to remain a factor on Tour for many years to come.
Classic courses will benefit
The other big impact of the findings will be on the classic golf courses around the world that have been forced to lengthen and redesign because of the increase in distance the players are hitting the ball.
The prime example is The Old Course at St Andrews, the home of golf, which just doesn't resemble the golf course of years gone by. It's been ripped apart, not because of golf strategy, but because of the "bludgeoner" - the guy that hits it miles.
They have changed 10 holes, to the best of my knowledge, in the last 15-20 years, and it's far from the course we saw when the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson were in their prime.
We also saw most par-fours reduced to a driver and a wedge during the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016. The Ryder Cup is never boring, but watching the guys just hammer a driver as far as they could and flick a wedge onto the green? That's not skill.
Reviving the art of skill
Yes, to a certain extent, it is a skill to be a long hitter, but you can be a better golfer who can only manage 260 yards off the tee. And it's the latter who have been discriminated against because the game has evolved with the emphasis on length instead of all-round skill.
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That is just wrong, pure and simple. Skill is a factor these days, but the game is so much easier when you've got a wedge in hand for your second shot to a par-four when you might have been hitting a four or five-iron back in the day.
Just look at old footage of Arnold Palmer, for example, when he's going into greens in a US Open with long-irons and the occasional wood, and he's still managing to break 70. Fast forward 50 or 60 years, and these kids are playing the same holes with wedges and only shooting a few shots less.
So who's the better golfer? Hands down, the better player is Arnold Palmer. Anybody can get a wedge close to the pin, but not many can find the green with a four-iron with any consistency.
The whole point is that, in the modern game, there are more players than you might think who are able to compete, contend and win handsome amounts of prize money purely because of the advances in technology and equipment.
These are the kinds of players who, with the older equipment, would not have stood a chance. They can hit it longer without the need for control. Being refined, disciplined and a consistent ball-striker, those attributes are negligible these days.
You can also factor in environmental cost, equipment cost, the cost of renovating and maintaining ever-lengthening course, and the fact that many people don't have the time to play a course measuring 7,500 yards, which in 50 years' time would be considered short.
It's got to stop sometime before it turns into a disaster for the future of the game at all levels. I welcome the findings in this report, and I had my doubts that this problem would be addressed. This has been a long time coming, but there's also an argument that measures could have been implemented 10 years ago!