In recent years, there has been much discussion about how advances in the equipment industry have affected professional golf. The following is a sample of viewpoints on this issue from several prominent figures in the game: television analyst David Feherty, PGA Tour veteran John Cook, course architect Tom Marzolf and Sandy Tatum, the former president of the United States Golf Association.
Should there be a uniform golf ball?
Feherty: No. Different players have different skills, and there is no difference for the average player. But for Tiger Woods and Ernie Els and Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, it's nice to be able to give them the choice so they can choose a ball that fits their game.
Cook: I think it's 180 degrees from what they need to do. It just plays more into the hands of the guys who are dominating the game. To have all these golf course architects get their egos a little bruised because there are guys knocking it on par 5s when they didn't use to doesn't mean you have to roll back the golf ball.
Marzolf: It's impractical. Those ball contracts are worth a lot of money to the players, and it helps the companies sell their product. People like to grab a ball and play it and know that Tiger Woods is playing that same ball.
Tatum: The answer is unequivocally yes. There isn't any game where a uniform ball is more of a necessity to realize what the game should be all about, and that is that everybody plays with the same basic fundamental golf ball. Suppose in tennis the guy serving got to select the kind of ball that he used?
Has technology hurt the game?
Feherty: It hasn't hurt the game at all. It's about the average golfer, the person who buys the equipment, who watches golf on television. Does it help them? Yes, it does, and it also makes the game easier for kids to pick up. It's easier to hit that one shot that hooks you into the game for life now.
Marzolf: It's been a part of the game ever since the beginning. If you go through the history of the game, the ball has always gone farther from generation to generation.
Tatum: Yes. It's finally gotten to the point where it's taken the game totally out of balance.
Have some of the classic courses become obsolete?
Feherty: Obsolete? Look at Hilton Head. If the golf course is set up properly, they'll never be obsolete. Our athletes in this game are judged by a different standard for some reason. You get world records broken in every other sport every year, but if somebody does better in golf, there's an uproar. They don't throw Jell-O in the swimming pool because Michael Phelps swims the 100 meters faster.
Cook: Show me where the scores are going down. I just don't see it. The shortest golf courses we've played all year have had the highest winning scores, the highest cut. I might drive 15 yards farther than I did in college, but I don't hit my irons any farther. I don't think guys are hitting their irons that much farther.
Marzolf: If you tried to draw a list and name those golf courses that are obsolete, I don't think the list is very long at all. The majority of these old classic golf courses have increased their distance and added tees, and amended the design based on the evolution of equipment.
Tatum: The classic example is Cypress Point. Cypress Point is one of the classic golf courses of all time, and it no longer is a competitive golf course.
Are there any changes you would recommend?
Feherty: The one thing I would consider doing is making the ball slightly bigger. Because it has advantages all the way around. It doesn't go as far, it spins more, it's more difficult to hit straight, and for the average player, it's more fun to play with.
Cook: You draw the line right where it is. This is where the ball is, this is where the COR is on drivers. I say go to where you can't have any more loft on a club than 57 or 58 degrees. That will change game plans of a lot of guys, who go at every flag. They short side themselves, but don't have any problem getting the ball up and in because they have 64 degrees of loft on their sand wedges.
Marzolf: The USGA has done a great job recently in trying to put a cap on further distances. They've done everything they can do to control further distance from having an impact on the game. They've controlled the length of the shaft, the size of the driver, and the face of the driver.
Tatum: I would reduce the size of the heads on the drivers. The sweet spots are, figuratively speaking, about three feet wide.