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Golf: Bigger Balls? It’s Been Done Before

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Stan Sutherland
Stan Sutherland

‘Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson think that the golf ball goes too far, and they're not shy about telling people either.’ So writes Eric Barzeski at The Sand Trap in an article dated July 11 2005.

Six years later and it’s still being said that in spite of the evidence that technological advances in the golf ball  and club manufacturer are making great golf courses obsolete. The golfing powers that be are reluctant to address the issue because of a possible legal backlash from manufacturers.

And not content with doing nothing about the golf ball issue they appear to be OK with recent technological wizardry which is capable of producing a golf ball that flies further, and other good things, and still complies with the regulations.

John Paul Newport at the WSJ presents a fascinating look at the new range of Nike golf balls being used by the tour players.

John writes, ‘If the resin core inside the 20XI were the same size as the rubber core of a standard ball, it would fly 20 yards farther.

The core has to be smaller, of course, to comply with USGA regulations. But it nevertheless creates a new set of playing characteristics that the pros have to get used to. In general, the 20IX series balls fly faster and spin less off the driver, spin more off the short irons and maintain their altitude longer than do the Tour One series balls.’

What got me going on the subject of golf balls was an article by Jaime Diaz, ‘My Five: Most Controversial Innovations’ and one of them is the size of the golf ball.

The wee 1.62 inch ball was in use when I started playing golf in Scotland and it wasn’t until 1966 when I moved to Canada I was introduced to the bigger American 1.68  inch ball.

I never took the trouble to investigate why the two sizes of golf ball and jokingly assumed that it was just another case of the Yanks wishing to be different. But not so according to Jaime’s article.

In 1931 the USGA was concerned about the ball going too far, and started to work on an acceptable solution and in 1932, the 1.68 diameter ball became the must-play ball size; well at least for a while, only in America.

Jaime writes, ‘…in essence, the only ball "rollback" in the history of the game.' And it looks like being the last.

The recent regulation changes for groove design merely a ploy to distract the attention of those concerned about technological advances making great golf courses obsolete. As well as the  other major issue of new golf courses gobbling up even larger tracks of land and amounts of water to the disgust of the environmentalists.

A look at another ‘Controversial Innovation’ gives rise to the subject of the thought processes of those who make the decisions.

In the early 1960’s there was a move to putters designed for croquet-style putting however in 1967 they were banned.

And then in the mid ‘80’s the long putter -- a 52-inch model – made its presence felt and ‘Rocco Mediate at the 1991 Doral-Ryder Open became the first to win on the PGA Tour with a long putter.’

Jaime writes, ‘Tom Watson has consistently maintained that "it isn't a golf stroke." But the USGA has taken a more permissive approach than it did on croquet putting, ruling that long putters "are not detrimental to the game. In fact, they may enable some people to play who may not otherwise be able to do so."

If playing with a long-putter which "may enable some people to play who may not otherwise be able to do so."

Pray tell me why is a croquet-style putter not permitted?

To which executive director of the day, Joe Dey would reply, “The game of golf was becoming bizarre. It was some other game, part croquet, part shuffleboard and part the posture of Mohammedan prayer."

Here’s the links to Eric John and Jaime

Thought for the day.

"I agree with Jack a hundred percent. The golf ball ought to be pulled back. Golf courses are being made too long. Look what they have to do at St. Andrews." – Tom Watson

Not to worry Tom. Problem solved, we’ll simply turn the 18th ‘Tom Morris’ into a Par-3. Or perhaps relocate the famous 'Road Hole' green and push the 18th tee back a wee bit.

Don't laugh. They moved the 17th tee back for The Open to the absolute disgust of many golf course architects.



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