In 2001, long before employment with EGD appeared on the horizon, I used to write articles for the national golf magazines. One of these, for the Scottish golf mag, ‘Bunkered’, dealt with the impact of modern technology on the design of our historic golf courses. To highlight the point I devised an apocalyptic scenario, whereby the R&A were compelled to abandon The Old Course as an Open venue. I described the last act of its humiliating demise at the hands of a brash, teenage prodigy, who upon receiving the Claret Jug, promptly declares that he is quitting ‘real’ golf to concentrate on the more profitable ‘Virtual Golf World Series’. The article is reproduced below, so you can read it for yourselves, but in summary, it forecasted the gradual distortion and stretching of The Old Course to match the relentless march of equipment technology, until it is decreed that professional golf has outgrown the Old Course and must move on.
And so we come to the issue of the day; the extension of the Road Hole by building a new tee on the driving range. Taken in isolation, it’s a good idea. It’ll bring the driving zone back by 35 yards and hence make the challenge of the second shot more like it was in ‘the old days™’. Great! Problem solved! Well…hang on a mo. Is this measure correcting the problem, or merely accommodating it? We all know that today’s pro golfers are blazing the ball much further than they used to. A quick scan of the official European Tour driving stats will tell you that 156 golfers average more than 280 yards with their tee shots and 11 top an average of 300 yards! That is an immense distance to hit a golf ball. Yet the governing bodies will present statistics that supposedly prove that the golf ball is going only marginally further than it did 20 years ago. Well, maybe Iron Byron needs to head down to the gym, because that is where the top pro’s are going. Their better conditioning and swing techniques, combined with better balls, clubheads and shafts are beginning to make the forecast mockery of the Old Course a distinct reality. Tacking on the odd tee here and there is not tackling the issue that is insidiously corroding the foundations of golf’s most cherished venue.
Back in 1984, Uwe Hohn trotted up to the plate and hurled a javelin into the air. 104.80 metres away, it came back to Earth. In that time and distance the history of javelin competition changed forever. The IAAF officials looked at each other and concluded that if they didn’t do something pretty damn fast, they were going to face the possibility of a steeplechase competitor, or even worse, a member of the crowd being speared. So they changed the technical specification of the competition javelin and at a stroke knocked 15-20 metres off the throws. The winner remained the competitor who threw it the furthest. The value of victory was not diminished by the rule change and the sport continues, 25 years on, to be contained safely within the infield perimeter of a 400-metre track.
Golf’s governing bodies could learn a lot from this example…