In case you missed it amidst the dozen interesting story lines at the PGA--three of which are Steve, Stevie and Tiger--check out this response from Phil Mickelson to a question about the Atlantic Athletic Club course set-up. He said this twice during an interview Thursday--obviously feeling strongly about it--and it speaks directly to an issue we've discussed here: growth of the game.
Q. Can you talk about your views on the golf course, the par 3s here?
MICKELSON: Well, Tom, I think this is a great site for the tournament, I really do. It's perfect, because there's some really hard holes and there's some really easy holes for birdies. And I think it's going to be exciting to watch. You're going to see a lot of calamity coming down the stretch and a lot of birdies early and late in the round -- early and middle of the round. Did and again, it's a wonderful site. But the 4 holes, the 4 par 3s, are a wonderful example, and a number of others throughout the course, that is the reason why participation in the sport is going down, because of the modern architecture, that doesn't let the average guy play.
Now, we have no problem playing these holes, but when you put water in front and a bunker in back, and you give the player no vehicle to run a shot up, the member can't play and that's why membership participation on this golf course is down like 25 per cent.
And it's every course throughout : Modern architecture, there are some great ones, but the guy that re-did this one, you know, it's great for the championship, but it's not great for the membership.
The "guy who re-did this one", of course, is Rees Jones. Mickelson argued earlier in the interview that rounds were down among members because of the difficulty.
Mickelson has a point. Over the past twenty years we've seen architects make courses tougher and tougher--mostly because they were told told to. Owners or club boards wanted to put their course on the map. Suddenly course and slope rating became the measure of greatness. We've heard people say, "It's got a slope rating of 155!" as if that were a good thing. Ask Pete Dye about it and he'll tell you that if you want to excite golfers about your course, you make it tough, and he's been told by developers to do just that.
But that's from the back tees, and Dye and most architects offer plenty of shorter options. Which is why, we think, the Tee it Forward initiative supported by the USGA and the PGA is so important. Based on Barney Adams contention that if the average golfer were playing "tour-equivalent" tees (based on their distance off the tee) most would be moving up a set.
The popularity of places such as Bandon Dunes, and of more "playable" architecture by the designers like Tom Doak and Ben Crenshaw (with partner Bill Coore), prove that not all of us are masochists. And those designs have done very well on rankings like Golf Digest's, that emphasize shot values over resistance to scoring.http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-courses/2011-05/100-greatest-golf-courses
Mickelson's right. Selling "hard" over "fun" is a deadly formula for a sport that wants to increase participation. Hard, we have enough of. It's "playability" we ought to be seeking.