Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Originally on redanman.com post-Masters

Half-Full or Half Empty?

Nine hole courses are a pleasant anachronism of days past and are a bit New England-y somewhat spartan and frugal, not big enough to be important for Americans, that's for sure. Anthony Pioppi has written a nice little book about nine holers To the Nines concerning these little gems. Tom Doak in Confidential Guide to Golf Courses listed a single Pennsylvania course - Phowenixville Country Club. I had the pleasure to play it in last Sunday's GAP match - worth exploring on that hyperlink also known as the Suburban League matches.

It was a very fine nine-hole as well as "small" course having been listed only behind the sublime Whittensville course in Massachusetts by Mr. Doak in his Gazeteer list of nine hole courses, the rest being UK courses.

After the party we're still left with a hangover -musings on the Masters, the Majors and the Equipment

As is typically and currently after the Masters a bit of a lull settles in for most golfers. Personally I have always enjoyed watching the Masters as different and better somehow than the Wachovia and the John Deere but have never considered it any more than my third favorite major men's tournament. I preferred the USGA version of the Open Championship when younger and especially before the game got out of control. For quite a while now it has been the R & A Open probably out of a sense of history as much as the love of the links, but this Masters failed in so many ways.

Out of control in the sense that the game has fundamentally changed because of equipment. This occurred when two things happened - it was more of a very fast evolution than an explosion and no I am not calling for retro back to featheries, waistcoats and longnecks. One was the evolution of aerodynamics of the golf ball (really not the two piece ball vs. wound because that happened before with the feathery being replaced by gutta percha and then again with the Haskell ball. ). The Top-Flite two-piece ball came along and greatly increased distance for high velocity golfers but it wasn't until the two step dance of a reliable spinning cover with aerodynamic dimple patterns came that the ball revolutionized. This took perhaps five to ten years, more or less. Now polymer chemistry has given us reliable predictable, durable multi-layered heavily engineered balls that can be minutely optimized. In its more tightly refined example the world's best player has had a company engineer a single ball and USGA'd it specifically for him. The aerodynamics bit actually began a bit earlier at Titleist with their Pro-Traj and low-traj balls but now dimple sizes and shapes can be micro-managed to straighten, lift and drop a ball almost however you like.

The second evolution was the larger lighter heads made primarily of Titanium. That was a short evolution of only a few years.

I was at the PGA Merchandise show in Orlando the year that Cobra introduced Ti Titanium with literally a party atmosphere. It was loud and brash and disturbed the neighbors across the uncarpeted aisle as modern golf then really changed after that show. NO more than a year later everyone was engineering heads. Steel and other heavier, traditionally shaped and traditionally sized clubheads were a little bit more reliable and durable (cheaper) for everyone and slightly longer and straighter in the hands of the best players, but metal heads had been around since the late 1920's. Titanium allowed true engineering of the Driver - the one and only club that it really has created any significant difference. Additional more dense materials could be added in peripheral locations of the ever-enlarging head and face thinness allow an actual contribution from the clubface to the initial velocity of the ball - at least a lesser diminishment or more effective energy transfer (I'll leave more technical explanations than that to Frank Thomas as he has already done it. Inventor of the graphite shaft more or less, that has had relatively less impact than the applied science of engineering the driver head.) has been and continues to be a marvel of engineering. Cobra last year had LD3 - Three limited criteriae as mandated by USGA/R&A rules and now has begun to offer the L4V. Reaching the maximum allowable Volume, COR, Height, Depth, MOI and even color for all I know. No knock on Cobra, just making a point. Last year's media day they told us they's gotten 3 out of four and predicted all four. Yup, now we've got 'em.

In the true sense of irony - game improvement clubs and the ball changes which have made the handicap man's game more reliable have made an enormously larger impact on the game of the elite players. Time was professional golfers would scour old garages, roadside stands and club collector's walls for the magic driver. Now THAT driver is made every single week, sometimes ten times for the best players in the world right out at the back of the range in the tour van. Optimization, hell you can even have a lightweight, high kick steel shaft if you want it now. The hack gets 10-20 yards, the pro gets 50 and the back tees go back 200 more yards. Twenty years ago it was a struggle to move to the wayback tees; now it's a joke and not a ver funny one - especially if you are following these 10-handicap clowns.

Augusta National, already and always an antithetic nightmare for the local greenkeeper at your club, has found it necessary to combat the long-hitting elite player by doing all the wrong things. Things your greenkeeper cannot possible do except plant silly flowering shedding trees in the name of "beauty". ANGC has systematically been eliminating strategies created by Mackenzie by width by planting pine (the anti-christ of) trees to limit options just as the message is getting out that trees and golf courses co-exist poorly. Increasing green speeds to freakish levels to hold back the player in the onslaught against par at the Masters is another unattainable goal unless you want USGA spec flat greens. Coupling this with the unpalatable control freak attitude of just this way and no other and I find it harder and harder to relate to the Masters. Yet ...

What good can come of all of this? Perhaps the ANGC will one day create a demand for a new, less responsive (Distance and control) golf ball and help in the cause of architecture. Currently we are at a sad point in time where green is good, narrow is good, flat and fast is good (actually fast greens only take getting used to*) and strategy is reduced to hit the fairway, hit the green and make the putt. (* and higher COR faced putters can allow you to swing harder and have the ball rebound with less energy transfer in yet another area of golf club engineering.)

We now have seen a change where we have four men's majors wherein three are in the USA every year and all three are all just variations of the same theme. Time has come for one more major to go overseas - switch the Australian Open for the PGA and for the Masters to somehow find a way to distinguish itself again except by its exclusivity. It certainly did not feel like an old-timey Masters this year and Jim Nantz and that nauseating music both need to go. Both lead to too much alcohol consumption during the telecast, coupled with perhaps the least interesting competition of the Men's Major year and give us an even bigger hangover than the year before.

Oh and please, don't tell me the Players is golf's fifth Major, it's just the coach-class Masters.

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