First-time visitors to the Masters are struck by a couple things. Those of you who have been there know what I’m referring to, and I welcome some of your own observations as well. Those of you who watch on TV, however, would be quite surprised at a few things.
- As beautiful as the golf course looks on TV, it is even more beautiful when you’re there. A former nursery, with flowering shrubs everywhere (each hole is named after the plants that were cultivated on that part of the property), one simply cannot exaggerate the natural beauty of Augusta National. I say natural because that is what is so unique about the place. Many golf courses have trees and flowers, but somehow they appear… uh, contrived. Upon gazing out over Augusta, one is struck by the setting which, as Bobby Jones once said, “Had been there forever just waiting for someone to lay a golf course on it.”
- Another thing that cannot be fully appreciated is the size and, for lack of a better word, the “hilliness” of the 365 acres. The slopes at Augusta National are so severe that it is difficult to imagine the number of uneven lies the players face during the week. The clubhouse sits some 150 feet above the 12th green, and when you’re there, the severity of those hills is palpable. If a 6-foot man stood in front of the 14th green, the back of the green would likely be above his head.
- Augusta National is an absolute clinic in turf grass management. Its teeing grounds are easily a 9 on the stimpmeter, and would be considered good putting surfaces on many courses! On my very first visit many years ago, I was mesmerized watching the committee select and cut hole locations for the day’s play. There was a group of perhaps 3-4 members rolling putts, while another 3-4 of them watched. And then suddenly one of them said, “STOP! RIGHT THERE!” Notice that on any given year, when the weather permits, the hole locations are not more than 1-2 feet from where they always have been on that particular day every year.
- The fairway mowing simply has to be seen live to believe it. It’s as coordinated as a Navy Blue Angel’s air show.
- The green complexes, and the approach shots into them, are unique in every sense of the word. When you watch the broadcast, look at how open the greens are. They are out there all alone, surrounded by nothing. It’s a links-style feature to an inland property — no trees, no bushes and very little rough anywhere near any of the greens.
- One cannot help being struck by the civility of the tournament. And it’s not in a forced kind of way. It, too, seems so utterly natural (yeah, there’s that word again). It’s like babies know not to cry and dogs know not to bark. For that reason, there’s actually very little marshalling needed. Everyone enjoys the event because, well, that’s just what you do at the Masters.
- The hospitality tents, famous for the pimento and cheese sandwiches and cheap draft beers, are actually quiet. And with some 30,000 patrons on the grounds, no one waits in line. How do they manage this when every other sporting event in the world struggles with it? The service attendants take such pride in what they’re doing.
- Amen Corner has to be the most private place in all of tournament golf for the players. After leaving the No. 11 tee, golfers are playing all by themselves for the next hour or so.
- The pitch shots the players face into Nos. 13 and 15 would scare the living daylights out of the average golfer. It’s like pitching off a green that’s sloped seriously downhill. A 15-handicap might drop a bucket of balls there and not get one on either of those greens. I often think that’s why so many guys guys go for those greens in two; they dread that pitch.
- If you go to the Masters one year, and go back the next year, you would NEVER know if they moved a tee or a green, which they do often. Every change looks like the green, tee or fairway, whatever was moved, has always been there. There’s not even a trace of the previous year’s placement. It is truly remarkable.
- The famous “roars” you hear so much about are underplayed, if anything. They are even louder than you hear on TV, and when they stop there’s all of a sudden funereal silence.
If you haven’t been to the Masters and if you ever get an invite, stop all plans (quit your job if you must) and DO NOT pass up the opportunity. I’m lucky enough to have been to many of the best places in sports, but there’s nothing quite like a week at Augusta. Maybe I’m a little partial, and that’s OK, too.
The Wedge Guy: The best golf club innovations?
Being in the golf equipment industry for nearly 40 years, I have paid close attention to the evolution of golf equipment over its modern history. While I’ve never gotten into the collecting side of golf equipment, I have accumulated a few dozen clubs that represent some of the evolution and revolution in various categories. As a club designer myself, I ponder developments and changes to the way clubs are designed to try to understand what the goals a designer might have had and how well he achieved those goals.
Thinking about this innovation or that got me pondering my own list of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime (the past 60 years or so). I want to offer this analysis up to all of you for review, critique, and argument.
Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played is the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s, and the advent of the oversized wood with the Callaway Big Bertha in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.
Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of the numbered and matched set, a concept pioneered by Bobby Jones and Spalding in the 1930s. This introduced the concept of buying a “set” of irons, rather than picking them up individually. The second would be the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower lofted irons so much easier for less skilled golfers to get airborne. (But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons)
Putters: This is probably the most design-intense and diverse category in the entire equipment industry. History has showed us thousands of designs and looks in the endless pursuit of that magic wand. But to me, the most impactful innovation has to be the Ping Anser putter, which has been…and still is…copied by nearly every company that even thought about being in the putter business. Moving the shaft toward the center of the head, at the same time green speeds were increasing and technique was moving toward a more arms-and-shoulders method, changed the face of putting forever. I actually cannot think of another innovation of that scale in any category.
Wedges: Very simply, I’ll “take the fifth” here. To me, this is a category still waiting for the revolutionary concept to bring better wedge play to the masses. The “wedges” on the racks today are strikingly similar to those in my collection dating back to a hickory-shafted Hillerich and Bradsby LoSkore model from the late 1930s, a Spalding Dynamiter from the 50s, a Wilson DynaPower from the 70s, and so on.
Shafts: Hands down, to me the most impactful innovation is the creation of the carbon fiber, or graphite, shaft. After fruitless ventures into aluminum and fiberglass, this direction has improved the performance of golf clubs across the board. You haven’t seen a steel-shafted driver in two decades or more, and irons are rapidly being converted. Personally, I don’t see me ever playing a steel shaft again in any club – even my putter! But beyond that, I’d have to say the concepts of frequency-matching and “spine-ing” shafts made it possible to achieve near perfection in building golf clubs for any golfer.
Wild card: This has to go to the invention of the hybrid. After decades of trying to find a way to make clubs of 18-24 degrees easier to master, Sonartec and Adams finally figured this out. And golfers of all skill levels are benefitting, as this is just a better way to get optimum performance out of clubs of that loft and length.
So, there’s my review from a lifetime of golf club engineering. What can you all add to this? What do you think I missed? I hope to see lots of conversation on this one…
*featured image via Ping
On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)
Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.
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What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
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