Hootie ready to go the distance on the long ball

From today’s National Post, here’s my golf column:
Hootie ready to go the distance on the long ball: Augusta possesses the power to rein in ball technology
National Post
Robert Thompson
On Golf
It is a rare occasion when Hootie Johnson, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, is considered proactive.
But the same fellow who squared off against Martha Burk over admitting women to the fabled Georgia club now appears to be leading the charge to rein in the distance golf balls travel.
That’s right, Johnson, the defender of old world ways and tradition, has said he is worried the golf ball is travelling too far.
“It is a problem for the game, not just for Augusta National and The Masters,” Johnson said at his annual press conference earlier this month. “We are hopeful and encouraged that progress is being
Perhaps not wanting to appear like the eunuch that it is, the United States Golf Association “leaked” a letter to Golf Digest that was sent to equipment manufacturers about the same time as Johnson’s
remarks. Among the issues addressed in the letter was spin rate, a big factor in determining how high, how far and how straight a golf ball travels.
Why is the distance the golf ball travels such an issue? Largely because it is limiting the number of golf courses that PGA Tour professionals can play at. No longer is a 7,000-yard course
generally acceptable. Given the average driving distance of the pros, 7,500 yards is more often the norm.
That is a factor even for amateur players, because many golf course owners in Canada and the U.S. feel their courses must conform to the PGA Tour, even if they are never going to hold a professional event.
Longer courses take more land to build and are therefore more expensive to create. Those costs are reflective in green fees, making the game less affordable for all of us.
Augusta is particularly sensitive to the issue because there is no way to easily expand its course. Currently, Augusta seems long enough to contain the best golfers in the world, but Johnson surely
sees a time when Titleist unleashes a new golf ball that increases the distance of tee shots by 20 yards, all but rendering Augusta obsolete. Remember Tiger’s opening tee shot on Sunday of this year’s
Masters — a drive that travelled 365 yards? He could practically kick the ball onto the green if he added 20 yards to his drive.
It isn’t only Augusta that is at question here. The Old Course at St. Andrews has seen several new tees added in preparation for this year’s British Open.
If Scotland is too far away for you, take a look at your home course, especially if it was built in the last 10 years. Most of these courses will have back tees over 7,000 yards. You are paying
for that, even if you never go within 100 feet of those tee blocks.
Despite notifying golf equipment makers that it is studying the ball, the USGA seems to be under the misguided notion that these companies will simply fall into line on the issue.
There is no way that will happen. After all, companies like Titleist and TaylorMade need to convince golfers that their new gear is better than their old equipment. One easy way to do that, whether
it be clubs or balls, is to demonstrate that golfers can hit it farther with the new equipment than they do with what they are using currently. Distance has been the mantra of the equipment industry —
just take a look at the Cobra golf commercials currently being flogged by David Feherty.
Instead, TaylorMade, Titleist, Callaway and the like will hire lawyers, ensuring a protracted legal battle before the issue is resolved.
Which is why Augusta is so important to this fight.
Johnson says the club is not “too far along” in making plans for implementing a tournament ball, but if the USGA doesn’t deal with the issue soon, expect the old guys in the green jackets at Augusta
to move forward. The Masters isn’t a PGA Tour event or a USGA championship, and can determine the rules that those playing at the Masters will abide by. A Masters ball could easily become part of
those rules if the club’s powerbrokers feel distance must be contained. And players will come to the tournament regardless of what ball they are using.
After all, who turns down a Masters invite?

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