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Snell: The Pros and Cons of Premium Golf Balls

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My name is Dean Snell, and I own a golf-ball company called Snell Golf. Maybe you’ve heard of my company or even used one of my golf balls; that’s great. My company isn’t the focus of this piece, though; it’s you. GolfWRX has given me the opportunity to help its readers understand what type of golf balls are best for them. I’m a golf junkie, like many of you, so I often find my way to this site. I love reading what you all have to say about my golf balls, and golf balls in general. That’s why I said “yes” to writing this article. I hope to save some of you a few strokes, and some of you a few dollars.

To me, there are really only two different types of golf balls; premium golf balls, which are called “tour balls,” and then all the other balls, which for the sake of this discussion we’ll call “distance balls.” They’re more affordable. I sell both a tour ball and a distance ball, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s true what you’ve heard, though, tour balls do technically perform better than distance balls, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs a tour ball. Once you know the facts, you’ll know why.

I’ve been designing golf balls for 27 years, and things have changed dramatically in golf-ball design during that time. The change was so rapid, in fact, that many golfers don’t have their facts straight about what the new tour balls do, and what they don’t do. Back in the early ’90s, when we used to test drivers and 8 irons for performance, the Tour Balata was the true tour ball, but it scared a lot of golfers away due to high driver spin rates. In fact, tour players back then used 6- or 7-degree drivers just to try to reduce the spin a bit. For the average golfer, the driver spin rate would go even higher, thus producing huge hooks and slices off the tee. So if you played a tour ball in those days, you might have had a driver spin rate of 4000 rpm. If you played a distance-ball, your spin rate rate probably dropped to about 2500 rpm. Since reducing the spin of your drives creates more distance, for the most part, many golfers liked distance balls better, even though they were harder to stop on the green.

It took some time, but today tour balls are designed with multiple layers, which help to create what’s called a spin curve across your set of clubs. What that means is the new tour balls give golfers the distance of those old distance balls, but the control of the old tour balls when you need it. The new distance balls are better than they used to be, but they don’t have the same spin curve the new tour balls do. With distance balls, golfers will experience low-spin performance with all their clubs, which makes it difficult to stop shots quickly on the green. Better players also have trouble controlling shots with distance balls, as they tend to launch higher and with less spin, creating shots known as “fliers.”

Now, this may be the most important paragraph in this story. Whether you buy a tour ball or a distance ball, know they will both go about the same distance off the tee. That’s because leading golf ball designers have worked to get the spin rates of all their golf balls in a very similar range off the tee, and aerodynamically each ball’s dimples are correct for its particular construction. The ball speeds of all of them have been maxed out to USGA limits, as well.

Once you leave the tee is where tour balls start to outperform distance balls. Statistically, golfers hit most of their shots from 150 yards and in, and more than half of those shots are from less than 100 yards. Inside 150 yards, and especially inside 100 yards, is where certain golfers can truly benefit from tour-ball performance. Although you may not be able to spin the ball back like a pro, you will still be able to add some spin and control to your shots with a tour ball. With every 1000 rpm of spin you can add to a wedge shot, you can stop the ball 5 feet closer to where it lands on the average green. Having the ball stop faster may mean a birdie, or reduce the chance of a three putt.

So, lower spin rates for longer drives, and more spin for more control around the greens are the biggest pros for tour balls sold today. With the new balls, however, something completely flip-flopped in the feel category. Back in the day, distance balls were very firm in feel, and the tour balls were very soft. Better players used to love the soft feel. To improve their performance, tour balls have gotten firmer over the years, and distance balls have become incredibly softer. So if a soft feel is important to you, some of the distance balls on the market today feel much softer than tour balls. Just like the old days, the durability of distance balls is also still a plus, but the gap is closing. Most distance balls are made with an ionomer or Surlyn cover than is less prone to getting cut, scraped or gouged, but improvements to the urethane covers used on tour balls have added to their durability.

The biggest con of a tour ball continues to be its price, though. They can cost as much as $48 per dozen. Regardless of how you feel about that price point, there is a reason tour balls cost more than distance balls. All tour balls use at least a three-layer construction, which improve performance, and also adds to the cost of making them. Their urethane covers are also more expensive, from both a materials and labor standpoint.

Still haven’t made up your mind about which ball is for you? Here’s how I suggest golfers make the decision between a tour ball and a distance ball.

Get a sleeve of tour balls and a sleeve of distance balls, and compare them against each other on the golf course. You don’t need to play both balls tee to green, though. When you can, hit multiple shots with each ball from 100 yards, 75 yards and 40 yards. Try chips and putts from different lies. Then, go to the next hole and do the same thing, and repeat this process for 5 or 6 holes.

By the time you walk off the last green, you should have a favorite, and it’s not always a tour ball. Maybe you liked the way one ball felt, or noticed that one ball was stopping closer to the hole because it was either checking up more or rolling out more. Something will likely stand out to you. If it doesn’t, then buy distance balls. There’s no reason to throw your money away for no measurable benefit.

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Dean Snell is the founder of Snell Golf, and has been designing golf balls for more than 27 years. He's worked for both TaylorMade and Titleist, and is the inventor or co-inventor of the Pro V1, Professional, Penta and Tour Preferred golf balls. He has more than 40 patents in golf-ball design.

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63 Comments

63 Comments

  1. scott

    May 30, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Good players can debate balls all they want I would like to see more Amateurs on public courses pulling out Polara XS or XD golf balls and hitting drives they can find so we can speed up the public course round…..Maybe if Polara would advertise “Legal for Amateur non-Tournament golf” they could sell millions more…finding tee shots is a much bigger priority for the high handicapper then lhow much spin a ball does or does not have….

  2. Steve

    May 30, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Just wondering how many of us reading these articles can afford to have a shag bag with 50 tour quality balls in good playing condition to take out to practice with daily? Also how many of us get to hit tour quality balls (Pro v1 etc) by the hundreds on the driving range? Guarantee your looking at 2 to 3 shots off your handicap if you have that luxury. At least we can get on the putting and maybe chipping greens with the same quality ball we play….

  3. Pingback: Are you playing with the wrong balls? – GolfDigest.com | Quick & Fast Sports News

  4. mc3jack

    May 13, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    A few other ball considerations: Cover hardness and green speeds. Say you’re playing a ‘soft’ ball, and you’re on slow(ish) greens. Putts falling short, aggravation . . . you can even see this on the Tour level in soft conditions. The pro’s don’t change balls, and can’t adapt their stroke. Ammies like us deal with more variability, such as length of time between mowings, playing different courses, so picking the right putting ball can increase the fun.

    Mr. Snell is correct about assessing the ball behavior around the green, first. You want a ball with cover hardness that matches your favorite putting stroke and makes the ball roll your familiar distance for that stroke.

    Next assess green hardness. Firm and grainy or slow, for example, like Bermuda grass. You need a spinnier ball with a hardish cover. ProV1x, even though your driver swing speed is supposedly ‘not optimal’ for that ball. Firm and fast? Break out a spinny ball with a softish cover….which is why the ProV1 is so popular.

    Ammies miss a lot of greens, so being aware of the spin/roll out characteristics of different balls on chips and pitches can pay real dividends, too. A earlier poster mentioned that players who have a lot of ground game like balls that don’t spin much…they can better gauge the bounce and roll without unpredictable ‘grabbing.’ And ammies tendency to hit/mishit balls short is mitigated by a ball that releases.

    We’d all like to think that using a Tour ball might save us when we have a baby pitch over a bunker but get real . . . 99% of golfers are not good enough to pull that off. And then they gag the three-footer they ‘saved’ anyway!

    • Bill Mac

      May 16, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      Please don’t take this the wrong way but I think you overthink your game. Just hit the ball. Get lessons from a Pro, practice and work on all the aspects of your game and the ball will go in the direction it is hit at the speed at which you hit it.
      It’s fairly simple.

  5. Forsbrand

    May 13, 2016 at 4:31 am

    Excellent piece Dean!

    Would like totry Snell in the UK but who distributes / sells them ?

    Many thanks

  6. Pepe

    May 12, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    To the Author…
    Dean, have you heard of the Begock affect? Where multilayer balls after 36 straight holes need to almost “rest” to return to normal. Like sort of re-coup. Is this urban legend or true? #pepegolfdeliveries.com

  7. RussF

    May 12, 2016 at 5:07 am

    While I appreciate the article stripped the issue back to Tour versus Non Tour or Distance balls, and assessment was based on construction and cover materials and their impact of flight spin and green stop control, at no time was COMPRESSION discussed. I know several sub 6 handicappers hitting Srixon Green Soft Feels as they provide great feel, yet they are 60 compression that I understand are fully driver compressed at around 80mph. These guys have swing speeds over 105mph so surely they are loosing 25 mph of speed as opposed to using a 3-piece tour ball like a Srixon Z Star or Titleist ProV1. How about a follow up article on ball compressions and swing speeds and how these effect choice. Ta.

    • Logan Hart

      May 12, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Compression is simply a way for measuring how a golf ball will feel and has no effect on performance. Titleist and other manufacturers have found that balls “compress” a similar amount regardless of how fast or slow a swing is. The theory that high swing speeds + low compression = less distance is a myth that has been disproved many times. Therefore, there is no need for a follow up article. If these individuals do see a ball speed drop of 25mph it is most likely do to factors such as club head speed inconsistencies, different strike locations on the clubface, dynamic loft, etc.

  8. joe

    May 12, 2016 at 2:41 am

    tried them and they did not work for me …. gave them to a 15 handicap who loved them

  9. Chuck D

    May 11, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    @ M Shhmizzle, that would be “Straight up yo, best ball fo tha 2’s, 3’s, and fo’s.” If you’re gonna bite the format, get your spelling, grammar and punctuation correct, and keep it consistent.

  10. Dave

    May 11, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    I played the snell and I thought it was a great ball. The only reason I’m not using it now is because I got a great deal on some callaway sr3.

  11. Phil

    May 11, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    As a polymer scientist. Disagree with the article. The materials used for the covers of golf balls vary dramatically. Surlyn covers are the real cheap grade and others are elastomers or various blends.

  12. Pablo

    May 11, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Were are and the Snell balls made and who manufactures them?

  13. Jim

    May 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Pretty easy – if you play decent golf then get a premium golf ball, basically anything with a urethane cover. If you lose several balls per round then buy the cheaper distance ball and save some money. I’d recommend trying Snell’s MTB balls personally as they are easily as good as any urethane ball out there and cost a whole lot less too.

  14. Carlos Danger

    May 11, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Pretty easy for me…

    If you are even somewhat of a decent golfer…premium balls feel great and go far (PRO) but are expensive (CON)

    Nuff Said

  15. Ned K

    May 11, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    If you want to shoot your lowest scores possible, use a “tour ball”. But there’s really no such
    thing as a “Tour ball”. There’s just the BEST ones and the not as good ones.
    Check to see what the World’s best players and amateurs use and you’ll get an idea.

  16. tlmck

    May 11, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    For those of us with slower swing speeds, tour balls feel like rocks and don’t go anywhere. They are only good on and around the green for me. However, I have been using two piece Surlyn for so long, I have learned to control them, and actually prefer the firm feel.

    • tlmck

      May 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Forgot to mention I use plain old Pinnacle Distance Yellow. Just the best performing ball for my game.

  17. Steven

    May 11, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Dean,

    Great insight. I think most of us would benefit from testing out the different golf balls. If price weren’t an issue, then golfers may see a benefit with the tour balls. I went to Golf Galaxy and did their ball test. They did a good job of recommending golf balls at different price points and for my misses. My location even told me which balls to switch to when my drives changed trajectory. It was a great experience.

    I agree with Dean. The key is to test out golf balls and find what works best for each person.

  18. Robert

    May 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Chrome soft 4 life, dawggg

  19. Bob Hatcher

    May 11, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Hitting to my greens are like hitting to a pool table so we need the most spin we can get from a ball.

  20. Tankie

    May 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    This article comes at a great time for me. I have found a 2 piece distance ball that I just love off the tee – Straight and Far. A real fairway finder. However, on the green, it just lands and rolls, no stopping. I need to do the short game test against a 3 piece ball that I like as well to see if I can get it to stop or to see how much it rolls. The distance ball is half the price of the 3 piece that I like so if there is no difference, I might as well save the money. BTW, I have seen plenty of Senior Golfers (60 and older) who play distance balls along with a “bump and run” game and score just fine.

  21. Dave

    May 11, 2016 at 11:23 am

    And Bert you sound like a ” greens keeper ” most of the ones around here think the sun shines out of you know where . Just do the job you get paid to do you are not gods.

  22. cjb

    May 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Always use the same type of ball, regardless of what type you are using.
    Switching between types are worse than using the “wrong” type of ball for your game.

  23. Alex

    May 11, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Most comprehensive article in a long time. Great piece of info. Definitely you do know your trade.

    • Fred

      May 11, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Alex: if you enjoyed the article, check out out Dean’s facebook page. He’s got a lot of great videos that discuss everything you need to know about today’s golf balls: how they’re made, how to find the right ball for your game, etc. As for Dean’s brand of balls, I’ve been using his MyTourBall for over a year now. MY Golf Spy called it “a better Prov1.” If you’re happy with your current ball, great. If you’re shopping around, you might give Dean’s balls a look.

  24. Walter Scott Mohn

    May 11, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Excellent brief introduction/summary/update on past/current/relative golf performance. This is really all a golfer needs to know about golf balls regardless of age/gender/handicap. Thank you very much!

  25. G

    May 11, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Great article Dean. One observation/question. Ive noticed that while tour balls do spin and check more on full or 3/4 swings, on shorter chip shots the low compression balls seem easier to get to stop and control. What does your testing and experience show on those shorter chip shots?

  26. Johnny

    May 11, 2016 at 9:43 am

    As Jake said below, surely there are balls that are in between a tour ball and a distance ball when it comes to spin.

  27. Kathy Marie

    May 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

    What about women’s golf balls–are they just a different color or are they made differently?

    • Josh

      May 11, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Ladies’ balls are also two piece distance balls as well most likely with the more durable Surlyn cover. But have a softer compression that works better at slower swing speeds.

      • Fred

        May 11, 2016 at 1:29 pm

        There are players on the LPGA tour who do use tour balls. Lex Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko, Michelle Wie, among others.

        • Kathy Marie

          May 11, 2016 at 9:55 pm

          Thank you for answering my question Josh and Fred! I appreciate that you took the time. 🙂

  28. Mike Honcho

    May 11, 2016 at 9:30 am

    The Snell Get Sum ball, two words= VERY DISAPPOINTING.

    • Leon

      May 11, 2016 at 10:35 am

      Interesting. I had the opposite observation. The Snell get sum balls are very pleasing balls. They feel very soft, fly straight and long, spin less but have an amazing check and stop ability. (I hit the ball very high..). I broke 80s frequently by switching from tour balls to the get sum ball. And the price is so hard to beat ($75 for 6 dozens, man…)

      • Mike Honcho

        May 11, 2016 at 11:13 am

        I lost an average of 5-7 yards with my irons compared to other two piece balls I play (TM and Srixon). Putting feel was overly soft. Consistently shot 78-85 range with others, Get Sum 85-90.

        • Leon

          May 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm

          Have you tried the “My tour ball”? Different results?

          • Mike Honcho

            May 12, 2016 at 3:45 pm

            My swing speed is too slow for anything other than a 2-piece ball. As in, I’m a realistic golfer. Gotta compress it, to get it out there.

      • Fred

        May 11, 2016 at 1:31 pm

        The Snell Get Some ball earned a gold medal in Golf Digests “2016 Hot List.”

        • cgasucks

          May 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm

          Fred,

          You do know OEMs PAY to get on the Hot List right? Most people here don’t value that list.

          • golferj

            May 13, 2016 at 11:56 am

            They don’t pay to be in the Hot List, the hot list is done independently and then they are ASKED to pay if they want to use the official logos of the Hot List. And more importantly they weigh more to the big advertisers, so when indie companies rank well, that is saying something…

  29. Mike Honcho

    May 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Great article. Too bad I can’t give the same review to the Snell Get Sum ball. I ordered a dozen. In comparison to other two-piece balls I’ve played, these for sure where way near the bottom in performance. Lost 5-7 yards average with my irons and poor feel when putting.

  30. Ma Ja

    May 11, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Been using Snell “my tour ball” for about two months now, converted from the pro v1x. Same distance off all my clubs, checks on the green from full wedge shots a little less, which for me is better. Snells simply stop where they land instead of sucking back 6 feet. Great ball, don’t see myself ever going back to titleist unless Snell raises their prices.

    • Steve

      May 30, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Yes, agree, used the “my tour ball” in a 2 day four man scramble tournament (got to set that ball up on every approach shot) …also used 7 year old Strata TL Tour balls….Strata even being 7 years hold still would spin back some on fairly dry greens “my tour ball” almost always stopped dead…..not saying that stop dead is not bad for a 12 handicap armature that really does not need to spin a ball back 5 or 6 feet further from the hole….

  31. Jake

    May 11, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Except that the majority of golfers underclub and leave the ball short of the pin last thing they need is more spin on the greens.There are balls in between these 2 groups which give good distance and decent spin and cost a whole lot less………..srixon soft feel is one.

    • Donald Quiote

      May 11, 2016 at 10:21 am

      I think the first part of your statement answered most of the ball question. If you are not a good enough that you don’t hit greens then no reason to spend the money on a tour ball.

    • Johnjohn

      May 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Try the RBZ urethane… 3 piece… Great price

    • Lef

      May 11, 2016 at 11:57 am

      I don’t think the majority of golfers habitually underclub. But high handicappers habitually hit it fat, which is why they tend to leave it short. When you chunk it the ball you play doesn’t matter one bit.

  32. Bert

    May 11, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Let’s see; have no respect for the course and your Superintendent should be pleased and as well as other golfers;

    “hit multiple shots with each ball from 100 yards, 75 yards and 40 yards. Try chips and putts from different lies. Then, go to the next hole and do the same thing, and repeat this process for 5 or 6 holes.”

    • Keith

      May 11, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Let the super do his/her job. Hitting multiple shots is not unusual, and any super who complains about golfers messing up the course playing actual golf should be in another business.

    • Ben

      May 11, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Bert,

      Crazy idea here ……… start repairing your ball marks and filling your divots. I don’t know a super in the country that would have a problem with that. Many members of WRX would have the opportunity to conduct this experiment at their club with no issue from other golfers. A little awareness of your surroundings should squash any problems before they arise. It’s all gonna be ok Bert, I promise.

    • Rene

      May 11, 2016 at 9:34 am

      You have never played a round of golf with no one in front or behind you? If you have a course that wouldn’t let you test shots out, so long as you are not creating a major bottle neck, then you need to find a new course to play.

    • Donald Quiote

      May 11, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Damn you kids for disrespecting the game! How dare you hit a 2nd ball into a green and work on your game along a round when the course isn’t super busy! I bet you disrespectful kids also play prefered lies when its rained a bit out too don’t you! Geez play the game it is meant to be played. Hickory sticks and … Geez get off your high horse one time. I think every one on this site …except the high and mighty Bert here have hit a 2nd shot into a green before. You just repair your divots (assuming you can hit the green Bert) and help maintain your course.

  33. Trevor

    May 11, 2016 at 8:41 am

    Question for those in the know:
    If you purposely use a power fade off the tee, will a distance ball generate leas spin that a tour ball?

    • Bill Mac

      May 19, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      I think anyone who purposely hits a power fade off the tee would know the answer to that question.

      • Bill Mac AKA Jerk

        Nov 13, 2017 at 12:21 pm

        I think you are wrong and you are an idiot. Stop being a jerk Bill

  34. Lee

    May 11, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I’ve always thought tour balls were a waste of money until recently playing in Spain on greens that were in the region of 12 on the stimp, I knocked the stick out 2-3 times with 7/8 iron playing an NXT Tour S only for it to release off the green. My pal threw me a Pro V1 (no I cried I lose to much distance with my irons) result knocked the stick out again and the ball stopped within 6 feet. I guess I’m saying use the ball that the conditions dictate if you lose half a club in length for increased scoring ability so be it.
    Also would love to try the Snell tour ball but live in the UK!

  35. Dave C

    May 11, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Good and accurate (from my own hacking around experience) article.

  36. steve

    May 11, 2016 at 8:26 am

    always make sure your balls are clean

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Opinion & Analysis

Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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