The State of Golf


By: J.L. Lewis


July 2009



Is the game of golf improving?  This question presents an interesting discussion that leads to several past, present, and future facts about equipment, playing ability, and whether or not golf is becoming what is best for the future of the game.  Equipment advancements have caused controversy the past 15 years or so because the nature of the game has changed.  In 1995 I averaged 267.7 yards in length off the tee and was ranked 58th in length statistics on the PGA TOUR.  In 2006 I averaged 279.6 yards and was ranked 173rd in length.  My club head speed dropped about two or three miles per hour during that period which is equivalent to ten to 15 yards in length, but my distance increased.  The improvment in the golf ball and golf equipment have reversed the emphasis of the game from shot making to driving distance. This has made the Tour much more power driven.  The ability to fly the ball farther eliminates a large majority of traditional golf course designs resulting in intended trouble areas that are no longer in the correct place, and golf courses that need to be lengthened without regard for maintaining the character or continuity of the course.


Many great golf courses have been modified or have become extinct which is detrimental to the tradition of the game.  The history of golf revolves around courses like Westchester, Oakmont, Winged Foot, Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, Colonial Country Club, Murfield Village, Shinnecock Hills, Oakland Hills, Brookshire Country Club, Seminole Lake, Augusta, and all of the Donald Ross and Alister Mackenzie courses, just to name a few.  In order to have a PGA TOUR event on any of these courses they must be lengthened, which ruins the designs of these great layouts because the bunkers are not in the appropriate places, and the greens were not built to receive shots from the new landing areas created by adding 40 – 70 yards to the hole. 


Amateur players benefit greatly from the distance advancements, especially the senior players.  It makes the game more fun when the ball goes 40 yards farther than it did 20 years ago with less club head speed.  However, this is a move away from the history of the game. A solution that may help the game of golf would be to change the golf ball back to how it was 20 to 30 years ago and let amateur players play from the up tees.  This would solve many of the issues that advancements in technology have created and preserve the awesome golf courses that were built on such incredible terrain.   There is less available land for building great golf courses in prime locations.  My hope is that future generations will enjoy the great venues where the history of golf resides.