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  • Alistair Tait

Distance debate won’t dominate golf club talk

I’m interested to find out what dominates the chat in the bar at my golf club this weekend after all the noise about the R&A and USGA’s Distance Insights Report. I’m betting distance won’t be the number one topic for Woburn Golf Club members. It’ll come a long way behind issues that average golfers really care about, like handicaps and pace of play.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of golfers are not threatening the game’s integrity by hitting drives 350 yards. Only a fraction can do that, top tour pros and elite amateurs destined for the pro ranks. Most of us actually want to hit the ball longer since, according to the report, we only average 216 yards off the tee. Most of us are hitting fairway metal approach shots on 400-yard par 4s, not flip wedges.

While the Distance Insights Report made for good reading for media types like me, most average golfers won’t have read it. Some might not even have heard of it. Actually, most tour pros probably haven’t read it, despite the fact they’re the ones who could potentially be affected by its findings and the actions the governing bodies might take based on those findings. Many probably downloaded it, saw it ran over 100 pages and thought: to hell with that!

As one wag tweeted, I guess length really is a problem……

I’ve never heard anyone I’ve ever played with complain about hitting drives too far, or getting another 10 yards out of an iron. I’ve heard lots of gripes about slow play, handicaps, course conditions, tee time availability, other club members they hate playing with, etc. I seldom hear playing companions looking back nostalgically at the days when they used wooden headed drivers and forged irons. Most are happy with their perimeter weighted clubs and 460cc drivers.

Sure they marvel at the distances the top players are capable of achieving, but it doesn’t dominate clubhouse talk.

I’m reminded of former Golf Magazine editor George Peper on this occasion. He spoke at an Association of Golf Writers’ dinner held annually during the Open Championship. With former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and ex-Euro Tour boss Ken Schofield sitting at the head table, and the great of the golf world in the room, Peper delivered a sobering reminder to those who think professional golf dominates the golf world. I paraphrase, but here’s the gist of Peper’s point.

“Golf isn’t about FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai points. If the professional tours disappeared tomorrow, the game wold still carry on, just as it’s done for the past 100 years.”

Peper’s point is as valid now as it was then. Current Euro Tour boss Keith Pelley won’t appreciate this fact, but many club golfers couldn’t care less what European Tour event is being held in any given week. I know. I often quiz my playing companions to name week’s Euro Tour competition. Most have no idea, and couldn’t care less.

So I’m guessing distance won’t be the biggest topic of conversation in golf club bars this weekend. Why should it be? Excessive driving distance only applies to about .1% of golf’s entire playing population.

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Feb 08, 2020

I think you're probably right, Ali, but that doesn't make it any less important.

When we mortals play places such as Torrey Pines, or any of the courses at PGA West, the professional tees are an irrelevance in most regards, but I do believe that they are destroying one of the greatest joys in golf, namely the ability of us all to play a hole - just occasionally perhaps - like the professionals, and to match their score. Our great courses, here and in the US, are being destroyed, not enhanced, by the extra length being added to them in order to stop every hole being reachable in one almighty drive.

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