Don’t mess with success.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Apply whichever old saying suits your fancy, but any talk about dramatically changing golf becomes my get-off-my-lawn moment.
Fewer holes (ugh).
Bigger cups (bigger ugh).
Frisbee golf (biggest ugh of all).
In keeping with the season, I have one reaction: Bah humbug.
But our great game isn’t the only one that gets these helpful hints.
Baseball moves too slowly and needs to find ways to speed up the game.
Football is too brutal and needs to find ways to limit concussions.
Basketball has outgrown the court and needs to stop being a 3-point shooting contest.
Hockey has outfitted goaltenders with too much armor and needs to give shooters a better chance to score.
And to any talk that golf, like basketball, has some distance issues that need to be addressed, I have a simple question:
Do they? At least for most of us?
I don’t see many regular golfers who can overpower a golf course the way the pros do.
Even with the advancements in clubs and balls, I still get about the same distance I always did – a little less, in fact, because of my age.
I suppose I could find clubs that will give me an extra 10 or 20 yards, but they aren’t going to dramatically change my game – or my score.
Actually, there’s only one equipment advancement that I consider truly wonderful: the durability of the golf ball.
Remember how easy it used to be to put a “smile” in a ball? Anyone younger than 40 probably has no idea what that was like.
Just about any ball that was topped or hit in the belly had to be thrown out. The gashes were as common as broken tees.
These days, you might see an occasional nick or slice, but I sometimes can use the same ball for two or three rounds before it shows signs of wear and tear.
Sure, there are other gadgets that have significantly improved the playability of the game. The modern putters come to mind. The distance finders are great. There are plenty of helpful warmup tools. And, yes, the clubs can be truly amazing.
But, like 90 feet between bases on a baseball diamond, golf continues to be the same game we’ve always known. The fairway can be just as difficult to hit, the green is still guarded by pesky bunkers and hazards and reading a putt correctly will forever be a mystery to many of us.
It all comes down to this: the conditioning and skill of the modern athlete.
Think about it.
Why is baseball so slow? Because the hitters are so hard-pressed to hit 95 mph fastballs – and hard-headed about just trying to make contact.
Why is football so dangerous? Because the players are bigger and faster than ever.
Why is the 3-pointer so dominant in basketball? Because shooters have become so proficient.
Why do hockey games tend to be low-scoring? Because goalies have come a long way from the days of Gump Worsley and have twice as much protection.
Today’s muscle-bound, physically fit athlete has had every bit as much impact on golf. Bryson DeChambeau and his peers are simply overpowering courses.
But that’s not most of us. We’re just trying to reach around our expanded waistline and make a good pass at the ball. We watch DeChambeau hit 400-yard drives and just laugh. We’re lucky to hit it a little more than half as far.
Few of us are still playing those other sports, but we’re still playing golf. For us, what happens on the pro tour matters at least a little bit.
If we’re truly supposed to be concerned about the distance debate, there’s only one thing to do: Make the pros play a ball that doesn’t go as far. That’s it. We can’t keep lengthening golf courses forever. We’re going to run out of real estate.
It’s either that or just face the fact that the pros hit it real far. Because that’s the other question: How much farther can they hit it with the current equipment? I mean, I can’t imagine that there’s a DeChambeau clone on the horizon who will hit it 500 yards.
The only other option is to increase the challenges. The fairway can be as wide as a sidewalk, the rough can be the height of a hay field and hazards can be everywhere, but I don’t want the courses I play to overdo it. It’s just not as enjoyable.
Most of our public courses are a reasonable length with a sensible mix of trees and ponds – enough obstacles to give us a go but not so many that we dread the four hours.
Let’s keep building more courses like that. And let’s keep celebrating our great game. For most of us, the best Christmas present is simply the opportunity to play more golf – just the way it is.