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Women: The Real Answer to Golf’s “Grail Quest”

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I know, I know, you’ve heard just about enough about what we need to do to grow, or even save the game of golf. You’re tired of hearing about slow play, the short attention span of millennials, the aging baby-boomers, the consequences of overdevelopment, or the aftermath of the Great Recession. And you just can’t stomach one more pundit claiming all we need is for Tiger to start winning (or even playing) again, and/or how we really just need the next Tiger to come along and save us.

If it isn’t obvious by now that pinning our hopes on either of those scenarios is a fool’s errand I don’t know what is, but then what’s left? Well, maybe there is one thing you haven’t heard discussed, and when it comes to the health of the game, that one thing might just turn out to be the “Holy Grail” of player development and retention.

Sigmund Freud once said, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?'” Now I’m no Freud, so for me to suggest that I have the answer to that eternal question would be, at the very least, a bold supposition. I have, however, been at this close to 30 years, and as the chairman of one of the PGA’s Player Development Committee’s, I am particularly invested in the answers to that age-old conundrum, at least from a golfing standpoint. And that is why myself and others working to grow this great game find ourselves on a proverbial “Grail Quest” to find these answers, and maybe even some new questions.

The game of golf in the U.S. has been attracting new participants of both genders at roughly the same rate for close to 40 years. Unfortunately, the glaring differences in numbers when it comes to retention would make it truly appear that once introduced, women very often find the existing golf landscape much closer to Mars than that of Venus. So as the game’s participation numbers began to dip in the past decade, its stewards began investing more than ever to find out what could be done differently. And as a group, women specifically were targeted, and questions that go more than skin-deep began being asked to find out what is truly behind golf’s historical inability to retain women players at the same rates as men.

Studies done by the PGA of America have isolated where we can start pointing fingers, and as it turns out, there are a myriad of issues that collectively conspire to keep women from progressing from the enthusiastic beginner to the core golfer that supports the game long-term. Shorter courses, more relaxed dress codes, available day-care, a focus on fitness, less time commitment, and less expensive equipment are all among the reasons most often cited by women who either don’t play or who don’t play more. And when you combine those issues with the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a nationally funded overriding organization charged with the growth of the sport as you do in many other countries, it’s no small wonder that many other countries see women participating at much higher rates. And while these are all critical pieces to the puzzle, they are absent one rather central piece to solving it. But before I disclose that missing link, I need to relate the quick story of how I almost accidentally discovered the ultimate answer to this all-important question.

A few years ago I had a vacancy amongst my staff of professionals and began to search for a candidate. During that time, numerous ladies at my facility suggested I hire a woman. I said that I would love to, and in truth had already contacted the LPGA and our local women’s division of the PGA, but as the resumes began pouring in they all had one thing in common. They were all from men, a fact that didn’t surprise me considering how few women club professionals there are. A month went by, and I was already in the interview process when I was finally and unexpectedly contacted by an LPGA Member who was moving back to the area and looking for a club to call home. And while reasons both legal and political obligate me to mention she was not just a woman, but also the most qualified candidate, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that many of our members were thrilled about the fact that she was. Now, we already had a robust women’s program, and an active ladies’ membership, both of which I felt she would augment, but as much as I had expected when I hired her, I wasn’t quite expecting what happened next.

Women who had never taken a lesson started signing up for them, including many whom I had never even seen at the club. Participation in our ladies’ programs, the same programs we had been running for years, jumped overnight, and the perception of my skill as a buyer seemed magically transformed. I was even approached at off-premise social functions by members from other clubs asking about instruction once it became known that I had hired a woman professional. Now most of us in the industry have at least a tacit understanding of what is known as the “intimidation factor,” but even as a three-term member of the PGA’s Board of Directors, I had obviously underestimated how powerful it really is.

The comedienne Phyllis Diller used to say, “You know why the pro tells you to keep your head down don’t you? It’s so you can’t see him laughing.” A funny line from a funny lady, but when this process brought to light the fact that some ladies had been traveling almost 30 miles for lessons at another facility who already employed a woman professional, it really started to hit home how much the him in that joke is the biggest part of our problem. So I stopped laughing, because it really got me to thinking.

As an industry, we are asking why women account for only 20 percent of golf’s players in the U.S., but if we really want to change that shouldn’t we rather be questioning why they comprise less than 5 percent of our nation’s golf professionals? Membership in the LPGA’s Teaching and Club Professional Division stands at roughly 1,500. The PGA of America counts roughly 27,000 members nationally, and while some of those are women, it is still a very small percentage. Thanks to Title IX in the U.S., there are now almost as many women as men playing golf at the high school and collegiate levels, the most common early training ground for men club professionals, yet for some reason those women largely aren’t looking to the industry as a potential career path. And while I know that my having a woman on staff is somewhat unique in the industry, I know the benefits of it wouldn’t be unique to my facility.

In the end, finding that “Holy Grail” entails more than just answering the questions of what women say they want. It means listening with the goal of answering questions they didn’t even think to ask. If we want to make a serious impact on women’s participation, the PGA of America and LPGA need to start aggressively recruiting more women into the business with the long-term goal of having at least the same percentage of women who play the game in our professional ranks. More women in the business is not just good business, it is the answer to our “Grail Quest.” It will bring (and keep) more women in the game, and with those women will come the girls (and boys) of our next generation.

It’s time to stop looking to Tiger, or even for the next Tiger, if we’re looking to make the golf healthy again. Because the real next Tiger more than likely calls herself something like Cheyenne…  at least that’s my bold supposition.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Brains a golfer

    Jul 22, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I would agree that having more Women PGA club professionals and assistants would grow the game. Most young players, juniors and older men ( me ) should strive to hit the ball like an LPGA player. I watched the US women’s open, and almost every drive was in the fairway – Isn’t Fairways and greens the goal? I suppose every man dreams of the 300 yard drive and a sand wedge to the green- but how likely is that? Maybe playing the right set of tees, and hitting a smooth driver and 8 iron (like the Ladies) is the way to both get better AND have more fun.
    After playing golf for 30 years, i realize that for 20 of those years i was trying to swing like the PGA pros or scratch golfers. Now that i am older i take MY swing.

  2. Tom54

    Jul 5, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I agree a mixed team event with a decent purse would definitely get the gals attention since their paydays are pale compared to the men. Those of you that dismiss their quality of play have not seen a LPGA event. They can flat out play!! Yes they can’t bomb 350 us tee balls routinely like the big boys but I’d be willing to bet they would impress even the skeptics. I know this sounds sexist but there is nothing wrong with watching pretty ladies play this game we all love. Next time one of their events is nearby do yourself a favor and check these gals out. You’ll be impressed for sure.

  3. ctmanic

    Jul 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Yup, good article. All great points. Female golf pros and just let them wear more normal clothes that aren’t designed for a freaking cheerleader are great starting points. But a clubful of entitled men acting like lewd teenagers, just sucks. Women are safer in a biker bar… …and that is not a freaking joke.

  4. asugrad1988

    Jul 5, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    This past weekend there was the European tour golf tournament, the Senior Open, the PGA tournament and the LPGA’s KPMG major. How many people are going to watch the LPGA over the other three tournaments. That’s four tournaments on the weekend and I would bet the farm that the LPGA was the least viewed.
    My solution would be to have LPGA tournaments during the week, say Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if it’s a four day tournament. I think a lot of people would watch the LPGA if it was the only golf on television.I don’t think it would matter much if the golf came on at 2:00 pm or 5:00 pm if it’s on the west coast. I don’t know anyone at my club that watches any tournament live anyway regardless of what tour it is. Way to many commercials. If the Golf Channel is doing the broadcast like they do almost all of them, then they have the weekend to travel to the next tournament.
    I think the LPGA should try 2 or 3 tournaments in the middle of the week and see how it goes.

    • Za

      Jul 6, 2017 at 2:19 am

      You know the majority of the world still work Mon thru Fri, bud. LPGA already don’t get enough money through selling tickets to their events. So how are they going to bring in that money during the week? It’s not all about television, although it is already hard enough to get sponsors commercials to get the events to even get on TV.
      I think you should shut up for a year and see how it goes.

      • setter02

        Jul 7, 2017 at 8:19 am

        LPGA isn’t a gate driven Tour, if it was, it would have folded up long ago. Its actually not a bad idea given it would have coverage time that wouldn’t compete with other Tours, and not much other sports are on in the mornings and early afternoon (save some mid day baseball). I think you should shut up for a year and see how that goes…

        • Za

          Jul 7, 2017 at 8:05 pm

          I work in TV. You don’t know how it works. Every sporting event at this level is majorly viewer-oriented, and that includes tickets. If it didn’t have problems with viewership even on TV, then you wouldn’t be addressing this issue with the above suggestions.
          It’s bad enough that day-time TV during the week is driven by commercial moneys of home-products for the housewives who stay at home. Golf can’t support itself with just those kinds of sponsors of home products.
          I think you should sit on a bicycle without a seat and swivel

          • Laff

            Jul 7, 2017 at 8:47 pm

            lol swivel

          • setter02

            Jul 8, 2017 at 2:14 pm

            Awww poor baby got his feelings hurt. You have a potential captive target market that is trying to get more females into this game. Good thing crazy ideas never pan out or are tried, I mean where would this world be with all the beige people like you running it pro? Maybe try and use your supposed ‘expertise’ to solve a problem rather than continue to be a part of it, I mean you are that good aren’t you pro?

  5. ders

    Jul 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Vancouver BC has 3 municpal short par 3 courses, neighbouring Burnaby has 2, West Vancouver has 1, Ricmond has 1. They are less than $15 for 18 holes, most are hazard free and are always packed anytime it isn’t raining. Midweek during the day is all seniors, evenings and weekends are drunken teens and twenty-somethings – most are male but you do see a lot of female players.. Make golf cheap, fun and relaxed and people will come and the game will live on. This won’t “save golf” if by “saving golf” you mean supporting a bloated golf industry, exclusive clubs and 7000+ yd courses but people will play golf if its available to them.

  6. Big Wally

    Jul 5, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    This is a never ending argument. Every time it is a “problem” that is the fault of men and patronizingly the responsibility of men to fix it. Women aren’t stupid. They can decide for themselves what they want to do and with whom and they do.
    If there was such a great opportunity for women teachers- where are they? Couldn’t the LPGA and PGA of America let them know they are in such huge demand? Or is the truth closer to supply meets demand?

  7. Bruce Ferguson

    Jul 4, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    I think more network (non-Golf Channel) weekend coverage of LPGA events would give more exposure of the game to women. Alternate LPGA/PGA Tour coverage on the networks. GC will re-run PGA Tour coverage later, anyway. Practically all tour coverage on network television is men’s golf. No wonder most women have a preconceived notion that golf is a man’s sport. Golf is a perfect sport for women.

    • Mb

      Jul 5, 2017 at 3:44 am

      But the attendance figures and the sheer TV viewer ratings doesn’t support financially what women’s golf bring in to justify more coverage. No major channel is going to spend money on things nobody watches. That’s why shows get cancelled. In the case of golf, the tournaments go on, just not with TV coverage. Advertisers won’t cough up the dollars if nobody is going to watch their commercials.

  8. Jesus Woods

    Jul 4, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Put a bunch of old women on the course hitting 40 yd drives (when they don’t completely miss the ball) and putting out for a 16 and see how much it “grows”

    • BlubberButt

      Jul 5, 2017 at 10:39 am

      How is that different than a bunch of old men hitting 40 yard drives and putting for 16?

      • Kevin

        Jul 24, 2017 at 2:44 pm

        Because the women’s drives would find the fairway

  9. Matt

    Jul 4, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    How about a world tour of US, Europe and Asia’s premier men’s tournaments? We need a global tour for golf to grow. The regional PGA tours could be more grassroots, combining q-school, web.com, and some of the smaller events currently in each regional PGA Tour.

  10. Jacked_Loft

    Jul 4, 2017 at 7:55 am

    Mike, I think you make a viable point.

    At my home course there are 4 (from 10 pros or 40%) fully quailifed female professionals, and they’re always booked out. The number of female players here accounts for about 30% of the total membership, and women from the surrounding clubs use us as their practice grounds.

  11. Nath

    Jul 4, 2017 at 3:44 am

    I clicked on this article to look at the pictures, hmm dissapointed. Just like my local course nothing to see there either, yea golf sucks when its soo dry.

  12. Mat

    Jul 4, 2017 at 1:55 am

    This is absolutely true. I’ve gone out of my way to find women instructors for my wife because the simple fact is that women play a more efficient and less power driven game. They also have boobs, and that can be an uncomfortable subject. So can hips. And if you think this is overblown, how’s Curves (and other female only gyms) doing? Why do you see women playing those exec courses more? And usually from the mens tees?

    I would love nothing more than to get my wife playing more. She caddies for me far more than she plays, and I really love and hate it at the same time. And guys, at least the ones that aren’t sexist jerks, understand that they have a lot to learn from the women’s game wrt efficient body motion and swing control.

    Great article, and absolutely true.

  13. Alex

    Jul 3, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Sexism of any kind is not the answer.

    • Dec

      Jul 4, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      “yer blind or neutered or religiously suppressed…. or a politically correct leftist post-modernist liberal troll.”

      You really don’t know anything have no decency, huh? You’re so clueless you probably wonder how Obama won the election, don’t you? SO sad.

  14. Rex

    Jul 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Sigmund Freud. Isn’t that the guy who got attacked by the lion in vegas?

  15. ooffa

    Jul 3, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    OMG, you’re scary. Not in a good way.

    • Ude

      Jul 3, 2017 at 9:40 pm

      NO its you who is {{{{scary}}}} and ^^^^sick^^^^

  16. S

    Jul 3, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Ohhhhhh you’re one of them Seinfeld losers! Figures

    • Traj

      Jul 3, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      You’re the biggest juvenile here who can’t resist bashing the geargeads here who actually have fun with the equipment designs. How pathetic do you want to be? A loser who quotes stupid things from a stupid show like Seinfeld, that’s who.

      • ooffa

        Jul 6, 2017 at 9:59 am

        You know what he meant. Please do not admit you are not smart enough to recognize a typo.

  17. Shallowface

    Jul 3, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    It has never ceased to amaze me how poorly the business of golf has treated women players. When a course ‘s original design has become too long for the average lady due to a poor original design or the fact that it is maintained much wetter than it used to be, do they build a new forward tee box? No. They just drop a couple of tee markers someplace down the fairway, often presenting a sidehill lie. Overly deep rough is another issue. If it’s too deep for me, it’s WAY too deep for a lady. Last, but certainly not least, is the lack of decent restroom facilities. Often times there is NOTHING on either nine, not even a port-a-let. A lady can’t sidle up to a tree like a guy can, and in this day where everything is subject to being videoed a guy has to be careful where he marks his territory. Nothing says “don’t play here” to women like not having decent facilities, and a course developer who was so short sighted that he didn’t include that in his planning deserves to fail. It’s just one more example of how the game is dying by its own hand. If the management of the game wants to know why it is failing, the answer is in the mirror.

    • freowho

      Jul 4, 2017 at 5:34 am

      Good post. Golf courses are still built for the top 1% of golfers and everyone else has to adapt. Having a handicap doesn’t help you get out of a 6 foot deep bunker, stop the ball rolling off the other side of the green or replace the 6 golf balls you have lost. Players are willing to accept that I played bad and deserve to have a bad score but they don’t accept that because I’m a bad golfer I should have to spend all day raking bunkers, looking for my ball, holding everyone up and embarrassing myself. You also don’t 10 bunkers per hole to seperate good and bad golf. 1 well placed bunker or a well designed green will seperate good and bad golf.
      The clubs that survive will be those that understand how to keep the majority coming back for another game.

    • setter02

      Jul 4, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Yeah I hate people who know their basic target market and serve them, but didn’t figure out how to appease the finicky unicorn golfers… Personally I’d hate to have to design a course where the vast majority of female players still hit driver into 120y par 3’s, and come up short… You design a course from the back up, not the other way around, a 4k set of tees is always going to be a complete after thought, as it should.

      • Shallowface

        Jul 4, 2017 at 5:03 pm

        If your “target market” is 1% of any group (and I am in that 1%, by the way), you are doomed to fail. You don’t design a course from the back up if you are designing for recreational players. From what I see, it’s the 7000 plus tees that are the complete after thought, as they are being added to existing designs today due to the USGA’s total failure to regulate equipment. But when they are added, they are level and actually look like tee boxes, unlike what is often done for ladies.

        With your mindset, you must be in the golf business. I love women and love seeing them on the golf course. It’s interesting to say the least how many men I’ve run into over the years who don’t feel that way.

    • ooffa

      Jul 5, 2017 at 7:14 am

      WHAT is wrong with you? You should consider not posting if you are going to continually say inappropriate or foolish things. Let someone else read your posts before hitting enter. Hopefully that person will help prevent you further embarrassing yourself.

  18. Tom Duckworth

    Jul 3, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Great read I would really like to see some events on TV with men and women golfers playing as teams it would be great TV, make it almost a Ryder Cup type of event with teams playing for their countries. There also needs to be a women’s Masters. I have a granddaughter that loves playing and is on the cusp of being a very good golfer but only sees men on TV and her friends tell her golf is an old mans game. She plays in a summer league and she is about the only girl playing.
    I have found a a LPGA teacher in my town and plan to take her to meet her for lessons.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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