Once in a while, when I write about “growing the game,” someone responds: “Really, what difference does it make?” Or, as an editor said:
“Our job is to provide access so people who want to play can play. If they don’t, they won’t. So what.”
Which, I thought, is like BMW saying: “We have cars and stores and if you want one of our cars you’ll find one of our stores.”
Would that it were that simple.
I want golf to stay healthy — to grow, not shrink as it is now — for all of the benefits and investment that growth brings. Stronger courses. Better maintenance. Cooler, more helpful equipment. More golf to watch. And most of all, more friends to share the sport with.
Here’s seven ways our game could gain new life in 2014.
No. 1: More Top Golf
Have you been to a Top Golf franchise? On the one hand, it’s a multi-level driving range, with automatized, point-scoring targets, providing great practice even for accomplished golfers. On the other hand, it’s a sports bar where golf broke out — classier than a bowling alley, with much better food — but all about socializing. Run by restaurateurs, Top Golf’s goals are access and attraction. It welcomes outings, leagues, corporate “meetings,” total beginners — you name it. When Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, said that going forward lots of new golfers would come from “non-traditional” sources, Top Golf was what he had in mind. Right now Top Golf’s only in Arizona, Illinois, Virginia and Texas, with Georgia on the drawing board. We wish it would open three shops in every other state next year. It’s that good.
No. 2: More Ted Bishop
The President of the PGA is an earnest, plain-speaking Midwesterner who brought light and, OK, a lot of heat, to the golf conversation this year. By arguing against the anchoring ban he stood up for his members — and their members — and promoted the golfer over “The Game.” He made the case more strongly than ever that legislating the same rules for tour pros and trunk slammers is futile. To make sure the PGA continues to take similar independent stands — and to listen to its members — Bishop hired Pete Bevacqua as the association’s CEO, a great move. Bishop was not a breath of fresh air in 2013; he was a truckload of oxygen. And like any attentive salesman, he brought an appreciation for his customers’ time and experiences to his job. “The primary challenge in the game is the time it takes to play. We’re working to create golf experiences of 30 to 90 minutes,” he told GolfWRX. At his course in Indiana, inspired by Top Golf, Bishop installed commercial grade speakers and now plays music for the practicers (and gave out earplugs to those who don’t like it). He also switched his equipment contract from Titleist to TaylorMade and declared Mark King a kindred spirit. “Though we have respect for the rules we don’t necessarily think they are the foundation of the game,” he said. That was the sound of the golf industry catching its breath.
No. 3: More Stableford
OK, Stableford sounds like a stuffy old PG Wodehouse character, doesn’t it? “Percy Stableford twitched nervously over his last Spalding Dot…” So call it Points Golf. Or Positive Golf. The point is you score points; you don’t document disasters. Bogey counts 1, par counts 2, birdie counts 3, eagle counts 4. Forget the collapses. Made a 9 on the 10th? No matter. Just give yourself a zero. We are obsessed with score in this country and our handicap system encourages us to count every meaningless shot and to play every stupid stroke even as we compete in match play: “I’m out of the hole but I need to putt out for my handicap.” Ugh. A recipe for slow play, myopic scorekeeping and low-grade depression. Playing for points, as they do in Ireland and Europe, is more fun, faster, and, we’d argue, makes a bunch more sense to our kids who compete for points in every other sport they play. Under Points Golf, you still get help if you need it. If you average 25 points and play someone who averages par (36) you’d get help on the 11 hardest holes. Try it for a few rounds. It’s OK if you don’t know whether you shot 102 or 103.
No. 4: More Science Against Slow Play
The USGA’s Pace of Play Symposium this fall was a great thing, not because the findings presented were earth shattering, but because they precisely defined what exactly undermines healthy pace of play and what doesn’t. Example: A course’s first group of the day gets off-pace by less than a minute. By day’s end, the last group is an hour behind! That first group is critical! USGA Technical Director Matt Pringle and Jim Moore of the association’s Green Section were the stars of the show, demonstrating how intervention with key groups (Pringle) and analysis of a course’s “wear” patterns (Moore) can help you solve the game’s most destructive problem. The other day on Twitter I heard two players in Florida moaning about how they’d walked off a very good course after nine holes because they were on a 5:30 pace. That course will never see them again. It doesn’t have to be that way. If someone asks you to wear a monitor this season as part of one a data-gathering effort, please say yes. What Moore, Pringle and course owners such as Troon Golf with its “Time Par” are demonstrating is that slow play is soluble. We can do this.
No. 5: More Lizette Salas
I hope you’ve read the Golf Digest series on Hispanics and Golf. And though Hispanics are very involved in our game—mostly taking care of our courses—they are not playing at the level we need them to if golf is to stay healthy. Suffice it to say that any U.S. company, industry or activity — or sport — that does not attract Latinos is doomed to struggle and probably fail. In just the next five years, Hispanic buying power, already $1.3 trillion, is expected to grow 48 percent—against a national average of about half that. One in four of our kids is Hispanic. And though Hispanics are very involved in our game, they are not playing at the level we need them to if golf is to stay healthy. Says Chiqui Cartagena, VP of corporate marketing for Univision: “Absolutely you can sell a sport! It’s very similar to selling a product. The key is to find the right cultural message.” Right now, that message is hit and miss. Though we’ve produced champions such as Chi Rodriguez, Nancy Lopez and younger tour players like the LPGA’s Lizette Salas, golf has not promoted itself to the Hispanic community as football or baseball have. It’s time it did.
No. 6: More 5-hole “Loops”
Streamsong, the hot new 36-hole Florida golf resort has a lot going for it. Three of the smartest designers in the game — Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw — to start. Two courses (both on Golf Digest’s list of Best New Courses) that have a natural feel and a linksy look are getting A-plus ratings. But Streamsong’s got something else going for it, something a number of smart golf operators around the country are offering: loops. Loops of 4, 5 and 7 holes that give you a chance to play when you don’t have much time, a chance to sample a course you’ll play the next day, or a chance to play “a few more” as the sun goes down. It’s part of a movement in the game to match golf experience with customers’ time. It’s fine to say, as Golf Digest did this year, you have time for nine! But sometimes you don’t. So places like Streamsong, Marine Park in New York or Island Hills Golf Club in Michigan are offering “loops” of even fewer holes. It’s still golf.
No. 7: More Caddies….and caddie scholarships
I’m biased here, having attended the University of Michigan on an Evans Scholarship — which paid for the entire tuition and room bill, a fortune to parents faced with putting six kids through college — but caddying is a huge plus for our game. It speeds things up. It adds an element of luxury to any course and round, which is why great new venues such as Bandon Dunes offer them. It gives kids a door into learning the game, and a chance to earn a bunch of money. It gave birth to the best golf movie ever. And it provides golfers a way to give back by creating scholarships at the club, association and national level. Moving First Tee kids to caddy programs is one of the really smart things that took place in 2013. We need more of that. If you belong to a club, support your caddy program. If you play at a public course, try taking a caddy at least once this season. Maybe your own kid! Let’s keep the loopers coming.
Here’s wishing you, and all of golf, a lively, prosperous 2014.
The Book That Almost Wasn’t a Book: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons”
“Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” written by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, continues to be the largest selling golf instructional book in history. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the book, which was first published in 1957.
The story of how the book was published revolves around Sports Illustrated, which was owned by Time Magazine. The weekly magazine launched in 1954 as an experiment to see if an all-sport publication could survive. In 1956, the publication was on the brink of disaster, having yet to find its audience.
This is the backdrop against which Sydney James, the magazine’s managing editor, received a call from Ben Hogan. Hogan had an idea for an article. Would Sports Illustrated be interested?
James promised to get back to him shortly with an answer. And he did, telling him that the magazine would be very interested in collaborating with him, and that he would begin making the necessary arrangements to get the project off the ground.
James explained his plan to Hogan, which was to arrange for the magazine’s most talented writer, Herbert Warren Wind, and top-rated freelance illustrator, Anthony Ravielle, to visit Hogan in Fort Worth to further discuss his idea.
“Would that be agreeable” he asked?
“Yes,” Hogan replied. He would make himself available as needed.
Writer and Illustrator
Herbert Warren Wind, a graduate of Yale University, was not just a writer, but a literary craftsman. He was without question the finest writer of his time, contributing regularly as a columnist for The New Yorker magazine from 1941-47.
For his part, Ravielle was quickly earning a reputation as one of the most talented illustrators in the country. His expertise was drawing the musculature of the human body in life-like detail. And then having the unique ability to convey a sense of motion with the human form.
A Single Idea
A few weeks later, the two met with Hogan at his office in Fort Worth, Texas. They then made their way to Colonial Country Club. And once there, they walked out to a part of the course where they would not be disturbed. And then Hogan began to explain to the two men what he had in mind.
As they listened to his ideas for the article, they suggested that he consider a five-part series. What they proposed was a sequential pattern of lessons beginning with the grip, the setup, the backswing, and the downswing. The fifth chapter would be a summary and review of what had been presented in the first four chapters.
Hogan liked the idea and agreed immediately.
As Hogan began to explain his thoughts on the swing, Wind began to scribble in his notebook, not wanting to miss a single word. (In later years, when interviewing a subject, modern-day reporters would use a tape recorder, but at that time it had not yet been invented.)
Wind would at times stop Hogan to ask a question or to clarify an important point. And when he reached the point at which he couldn’t possibly absorb another thought, Wind gave way to Ravielle, who armed with a still camera, snapped one photograph after another, capturing the various positions that would ultimately mirror Hogan’s thoughts.
During the next few days, Hogan continued to elaborate on his theories about the golf swing and the logic behind them. As they finished, the three men agreed that they would meet again, either at the end of 1956 or after the first of the year.
After returning to New York, Wind began writing a rough draft of the five-part series. At the same time, Ravielle started working from the photographs that he had taken earlier. He began by drawing pencil sketches that he would later show to Hogan for his approval before moving on to the final version.
The three gathered together again for a week-long session in January 1957. Hogan was extremely impressed with Ravielle’s sketches, believing that he had managed to capture the very essence of what he was attempting to covey to his would-be readers.
The pencil sketches would be transformed a final time using a “scratch-board” technique that Ravielle had mastered. The scratch-board technique created a uniquely vivid picture, which invited the reader to reach out and touch the seemingly life-like image on the page.
Wind’s spirits were buoyed after meeting with Hogan a second time as he wrote, “Hogan had gone into a much more detailed description of the workings of the golf swing then we had anticipated. Moreover, he had patently enjoyed the challenge and had given it everything he had.”
On returning to New York, Wind and Reveille begin working together, side by side, laying out the text, the illustrations, and captions in page form for each of the five chapters.
As Wind recounted, “When an installment was completed and had gone through the production department, we airmailed photostats of the pages to Hogan, who was in Palm Beach getting ready for the Masters. I would telephone Ben at his apartment at an appointed time each week, and we would go over each paragraph line by line. A session usually took between 45 minutes to an hour.”
During these sessions, as they reviewed the copy, Hogan was insistent that each word and phrase precisely communicate exactly what he intended to say. Wind recalls one example, when he had written “that at a certain stage of the swing the golfer’s weight had shifted to his left side.” Hogan corrected, “Let’s not say left side,” Adding “That isn’t accurate. In golf, there’s no such thing as a player’s left side. At this point in the swing most of the golfer’s weight is on his left foot and left leg.”
Wind found these discussions exhausting as Hogan worked his way through the copy with a “fine-tooth comb.” As wind wrote, “After these protracted checking sessions with Hogan, I did some deep-breathing exercises to relax myself, but I also had the bracing feeling that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be able to detect a smudged adjective or a mysterious verb in the text.”
As they were nearing completion of their work, Hogan asked Wind if he had any suggestions for the series name. As Wind recalls, “I thought for a long moment and then tossed up ‘The Fundamentals of Modern Golf?’”
Hogan mulled it over for a moment and then asked, “How about ‘The Modern Fundamentals of Golf?’” Wind agreed that the reversal in wording was a definite improvement. The series now, for the first time, had both a name and an identity.
The Magazine and the Book
The series was very successful, of course, boosting not only the sales of the magazine but also its circulation. The content of what would eventually become the book appeared in five installments beginning with the March 11, 1957 issue, which in Wind’s exact words, “sold like hotcakes.“
The book was released some five months later in September as a joint venture between Hogan and the magazine.
A Triple Play
Why has the book endured?
The first reason is because of the public’s fascinated with Hogan, not only as player, but as a man. He was a great ball-striker, maybe the best of all time, but there was more to the man than his ability to play golf. He is one of the more complex sports figures in the pantheon of great players. He was a man of secrets who preferred the shadows to the light.
The second reason is the wonderful prose of Herbert Warren Wind, which flows with ease from one paragraph to another, giving the reader at times the feeling of floating on air from one sentence to another.
The third reason is the illustrations of Anthony Ravielle, which describe in dramatic fashion the essence of what Hogan wanted to convey to the reader.
“Five Lessons” was then the collaboration of three men, each one of them the very best in their fields. They were, through luck and circumstance, thrown together in space and time. And maybe once joined together, they sensed the opportunity to create something very special with one purpose in mind — to write one of the best golf instruction books ever. And they succeed.
Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply
Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email email@example.com for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.
Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?
It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.
Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?
It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.
What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?
We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.
Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?
It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.
It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?
It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.
Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?
Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.
In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.
This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?
If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!
What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?
I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.
It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?
We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.
Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.
So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!
Tara Iti: A Golfer’s Paradise
This trip couldn’t have started better. Tara Iti Golf Club is magic! No disrespect to the home of golf, but this course might be as special as it gets when it comes to playing links golf.
Catch Up: The Start of My Golf Adventure
Tara Iti is a masterpiece that opened late in 2015. It’s designed by the famous golf architect Tom Doak, and it’s located on a large piece of land on the North Island of New Zealand around 1.5 hours from Auckland. It’s well hidden from houses and traffic, so you can just focus on your game and the stunning property.
The course brings swift fairways and plenty of risk-reward opportunities, offering a bevy of challenging shots that you need to plan carefully in order to get close to the flag. I loved especially the shapes presented by the fairways and waste areas, which make it feel as though the entire course is seamlessly woven together. I also like the idea they’ve got here of playing the ball as it lies. No bunkers, just waste areas.
On a personal note, my match against Johan was halved. He played very well on the first nine while I did well on the back nine.
What’s key to success to Tara Iti is a polished short game in combination with the ability to hit the fairways. I found my favorite hole at No. 17, a strikingly beautiful short par-3 that pops up between the wild sand dunes. There are three iconic trees to the left with the sea and a beautiful island as a backdrop.
Up Next: Kauri Cliffs on the northern peak of New Zealand. It is said to be one of the most scenic courses in the world.
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