Fascinating to see the continued split over the anchored putter debate, with the PGA of Canada issuing a note to the USGA about it and making that note public (full disclosure — I edit two magazines for the PGA of Canada). The PGA of Canada members aren’t in support of the ban:
In late February, the PGA of Canada conducted a poll, surveying the nearly 3,800 members of the Association. Twenty-‐five per cent of our membership responded to the poll, with nearly two thirds (63.5%) indicating they did not favour the proposed ban on anchoring. These statistics are nearly identical to the PGA of America’s poll, surveyed within its membership in late 2012.
The PGA of Canada also asked our members whether or not they supported the recent discussions on the bifurcation of the Rules of Golf. The poll results indicated 54.6% of the members did not support bifurcation. It would seem that based on positions taken by other organizations within the golf industry, if Rule 14-‐1b were to go ahead, the talk about bifurcation would continue to escalate. The PGA of Canada supports the USGA and Golf Canada that in a growing and flourishing industry there would only be one set of Rules of Golf for all players, regardless of ability or position.
I’ve stayed out of this debate, but my position is clear — I used a belly putter last year, and I don’t see any reason to rid the game of the concept. I’m also not a supporter of rolling the ball back, having had numerous interesting discussions with my friend, golf architect Ian Andrew, over it in recent years. Andrew continues to support rolling back the ball, but is wants the game to keep the long putter.
Golf organizations should be specifically about growing the game. That should be true of the USGA, the R&A, and the various PGAs. Instead we’ve got a split over a rule that will have no impact on the growth of the game — though truthfully I doubt many will disappear if they take away anchoring. I’ll just go back to a short putter, for example. But I don’t think that’s the point.
It strikes me the USGA has lost the plot. A player won its national title with a long putter and suddenly that’s the line in the sand. But the anchoring debate has nothing to do with the average player — it is about golfers on the elite level. The PGA Tour is in fine shape — strong sponsors, strong tournaments. Where the game struggles is at the club level — public and private. And eliminating anchoring won’t help at all with the popularity of the game, it can only hurt. Is there a single person out there thinking, “I wasn’t going to play golf, but now that they’ve made the game harder I think I’ll try.” It is a ridiculous perspective.
My colleague Lorne Rubenstein said last year that he thinks golf might have been intended to be a niche sport. It is too hard and too challenging for most, and takes too long for many. He might have a point there. But if we roll back the ball, making it go 20% less, and eliminate belly putters, is that going to bring more people to golf? Frankly I think rolling back the ball will drive people from the game. And I don’t buy the notion that the typical amateur is hitting it a lot farther — I see them standing on the range at Eagles Nest hitting 200-yard slices into the long grass right of the range. Better players may hit it farther — but that’s a small minority.
Golf organizations needs to come together on a plan that moves the sport forward. The PGA of Canada have it right — belly putters aren’t the issue. Heck, even I don’t believe PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem when he says 20% of players are using them — but if the number is smaller that also means the impact on the sport, especially on the everyday amateur ranks, is also less significant. I also wonder if Golf Canada ever thought — especially given its push to try to generate members from the group of average public golfers — that this rule matter might have been a good time to separate itself from the stuffiness of the R&A and the USGA and say it wasn’t going to support the rule change because it isn’t good for the game.
The PGA of Canada had this to say in conclusion:
If Rule 14-‐1b were to come into effect, would the loss of golfers render the game unsustainable? More than likely not, however, as stewards of the game, promoting the game and the growth of the industry is a key priority of the PGA of Canada.
For all of the reasons set forth above, it is our opinion that the proposed Rule 14-‐1b is not in the best interest of the game of golf.
They are right.
Why don’t we turn our attention to slow play? Over the over-manicuring of courses that drives up costs? Why belly putters? Because it seemed simple at the time.
But it has become increasingly complicated — and I wonder if in retrospect the USGA wished they’d stayed out of this one.