BOMB: Interesting discussion posted by Geoff Shackelford from the World Golf Architecture Forum in St. Andrews last weekend. Steve Otto, who heads up the R&A's equipment testing efforts, put forth data that suggests driving distance has remain unchanged since 2003. No news there -- we've beaten that horse several times, and the chart I've been running in Golf World on a weekly basis this year shows it's actually down nearly 4 yards year on year.
The follow-up, however, was intriguing. Otto was asked then why why was it necessary to lengthen the Road Hole 17th at St. Andrews if distance had not increased since the last time the Open Championship was played there in 2005? Otto talked about strategy, etc., but fact is, no we're getting to changes just to make changes. Distance at the elite level has effectively
been curbed folks. Know how many players on the PGA Tour are averaging 300 yards this year? One. Dustin Johnson at 300.5 yards. There were 25 in 2005.
I'm so tired of hearing the ball needs to be rolled back 10, 20 percent. That's spoken with such a lack of thought it's incredible. Average distance is around 280 yards on the PGA Tour. Take 10 percent off and the average is 252 yards. Twenty percent brings it to 224 yards. Yeah, that'll pack them in at tournaments. We watch professional golf to see things that we cannot do. Hitting the ball a mile is one of those things. It's why players such as John Daly, Alvaro Quiros and Hank Kuehne draw crowds even when they are nowhere near the lead.
I'm also tired of hearing how course owners and architects are getting screwed because they have to build courses that are 7,400 yards to hold up. That's a blatant lie and flawed thinking. For starters, the only courses where that even is a thought is the 50 or so that tour events are played on. Anyone not hosting a tour event that builds a 7,400-yard course is just wasting space. Besides, distance is the easy way out. Spyglass and Pebble Beach each played under 7,000 for the pros at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and had stroke averages higher than the 7,334-yard Blue Monster at Doral. Last year Spyglass and Harbour Town (both under 7,000 yards), were in the top third of courses in scoring average, proving you don't need length to be tough. You just need to be well-designed. In other words, let's leave well enough alone for a while, at the Road Hole and everywhere else for that matter.
GOUGE: Well, the archies still seem pretty exercised about the subject. Tom Doak, present for the R&A Powerpoint, seemed most unimpressed. His post on the Golf Club Atlas site (a personal favorite way to while away an hour looking at courses you wish you could play tomorrow) concludes with the following: "So, the R&A let the fox into the hen house. But rest assured they have closed the door behind him."
That may be a little extreme because to view the modern golf ball as some sort of murdering force of evil seems a bit much. We can live with the current golf ball, just as those in the past lived with the livelier ball of each generation, just as we lived with titanium, just as we lived with fairways that play like putting greens of a generation ago. The game evolves and during that evolution we have pointless debates. Why is there this marauding fear that 300-yard carries will become standard? First, they won't. Second, the creative designer figures out ways to challenge that development. And as I've said before, if your Old Course or any old course isn't the proper test, so be it. But I still think it is.
But let's dig a little deeper on some of those distance numbers. The current driving distance average (279.6) is the lowest it's been at this point in the season since 2005 when it was the same. This could be a factor of weather or eating habits or some other indecipherable bit of accounting. What's perplexing is that the average in 2005 ended up at 288.4. So in other words, let's not jump to any conclusions about where distance is or where it's going. What is notable, I guess, is that there have been 408 drives of 350 yards or more so far this year. That number is 15 percent lower than this time last year, and 20 percent lower than the average number for this time of year for the previous five years. But it's higher than the number for 2005 and 2008. Weird. And it's wildly higher than even the totals for this time of year for the entire 1990s (408 this year, 219 for the years 1992-99). Obvious, of course, because Kapalua's Plantation Course (home of the 400-yard special) was not a tour stop.
So what to spin from here? I think we have to agree with Otto and the R&A. Average driving distance is flat on the PGA Tour. Who knows why, other than you can't get blood from a turnip. Still, if we saw a consistent spike in average driving distance for five years in a row, something would be done about it, given the definitive declaration from the USGA-R&A Joint Statement of Principles from 2002 ("any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.") We have their word, right?