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19th Hole

Acushnet CEO fires back at Mike Davis, Bridgestone over rollback debate

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Wally Uihlein, president and CEO of Titleist’s parent company, Acushnet, drafted a letter to the Wall Street Journal Monday ostensibly in response to the paper’s interview with Mike Davis. The USGA executive director told the WSJ lengthening golf courses makes the game a more costly proposition for all golfers.

In short, the head of the industry’s leading golf ball manufacturer doesn’t buy the “trickle down cost argument,” or at least is yet to see data confirming Davis’ suggestions.

He writes,

“Is there any evidence to support this canard…the trickle down cost argument? Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?”

Uihlein also questioned Bridgestone CEO, Angelo Ilagan’s motives for calling for a rollback of the golf ball last week.

“Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball.”

Shots fired. Titleist has always been willing to do battle with adversaries to the brand, and the company is obviously keen to avoid the suggestion that it plays a part in making the game more expensive for everyone who swings a golf club.

Geoff Shackelford’s analysis of Davis’ remarks seems even more prescient today.

“Every party involved has some incentive not to force the issue. If the governing bodies tried to mandate a more restrictive ball for all golfers, they would face a massive fight from equipment companies. Those companies thrive by making a hard game easier, not harder.”

None of this is to say Uihlein is anything other than right about the fact that decisions about a ball rollback or lack thereof must be driven by data, rather than some cocktail of fear, half-truths, and nostalgia.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Matt

    Nov 23, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Uihlein calling the Bridgestone CEO out for having an economic motive is kinda funny no? Davis is the only one of the three who probably has the best interest of the game in mind, the other two are just trying to preserve and/or expand their market share. I happen to strongly agree with the rollback argument.

    • Michael

      Nov 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I find it interesting that you think Davis has more credibility because he is not head of a profit driven enterprise. The same USGA you seem sure sure has the best interest of the game in mind, has made a lot of decisions that seem quire contrary to the games best interests.

      If golf was in touch with the majority demographic of the game they would find most players don’t want a roll back. They have a hard enough time as it is. I am willing to bet your index is probably less than five or close to it. While I admire the skills of that group, they are so far out of touch with the average player and their skill level that it’s laughable. By all means, roll it back for professionals and top amateur competitions. But if you do that for all golfers you are going to see the participation drop like a rocket.

      Many sports have rules that only apply to certain levels of competition.Golf has long refused to go down this path. Most of the arguments they proffer are archaic and were applicable to long ago disappeared environment. Toughen it up for the highest levels of competition and leave it alone for the rest of the game.

      The rule changes coming next year have been long overdue and there is no excuse for the process taking this long. Once they announced them it’s almost two years until they are effective? Garbage, but representative of the way the USGA and R&A approach the game. I have had to correct nine of every 10 golfers I know and make them understand the changes are effective January 2019.

      I know I am ranting a bit, but I guess my point is the idea David/USGA is the only one with credibility is laughable if you look at the history.

    • Andrew Cooper

      Nov 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      Of course Acushnet and Bridgestone are profit motivated, but I’m sure that they’re also keen to see the game grow. More golfers+more rounds=more sales. But why would rolling back the ball, or introducing a pro only ball, do anything to help grow the game? As Mr Uihlein says, where is the evidence?

  2. John

    Nov 22, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Please dont limit the ball because americans cant design golf courses…. Making them longer and longer doesnt work and only skews it towards the big hitter even more.

  3. ML

    Nov 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    USGA is the fun police… God forbid some weekend warrior makes a 4 footer in the club tourney, spins a wedge back 5 feet from the fairway, or sneaks one out there 300 yards.

    Mike Davis “We can’t have that!”

    Occupy the USGA!

    What would we ever do without the USGA??

  4. TommyL

    Nov 22, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Wally – it’s called business disruption: tv is saturated with 4 day smash & chip tournaments, consumers want more playable golf courses that don’t take 5 hrs and decharacterize many original designs – Costco & Snell etc are probably working right now on rolled back premium balls …
    Strange that when we’re on the range and we put aside a stray Pinnacle or TopFlite in the bucket for hitting at the end (trying to impress?!) – it’s a hollow pleasure!
    There’s more enduring fun in shaping and grooving some medium+ pure strikes that equate to ‘golf’ than long distance trials

  5. DaveT

    Nov 22, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Sure, Uihlein has an agenda, skin in the game. So, as he points out, does Bridgestone. But Davis has the must subtle agenda, and IMHO the most pernicious.

    The Geoff Shackelford quote in this article is incomplete. He also pointed out that the pro tours and TV networks will oppose a limited distance ball; it is to their advantage to have viewers ooh and aah about how wonderful these pro golfers are.

    Which brings me back to Mike Davis and the USGA. Their job is supposed to be to protect and promote the game. But their behavior for the last decade or so has been to protect par, not the game. Just watch their shenanigans at the US Open if you don’t believe me. This is in stark contrast to the Tour, who like to showcase their stars doing amazing things.

    So what IS golf’s pressing problem today? Is it that the longest hitting 0.1% of golfers can overpower a 7000yd course? Or is it that golf is too hard, too few people are taking it up? I maintain that it is the latter, and making the ball go shorter will only make that worse. 99% of golfers will lose enjoyment and struggle more if deprived of whatever talent-limited distance they have.

    Leave things alone, allow the tour players to post amazing scores and hit wedges into par-fours. The world won’t come to an end. Maybe it’ll even be better.

    • Matt

      Nov 23, 2017 at 10:16 am

      I agree Davis is kind of a weasel and I often disagree with him. But I think you’re dead wrong here. The small distance gains of the new balls for higher handicap players isn’t even coming close to closing the difficulty gap that longer courses have created. Longer holes are much tougher comparatively for bad golfers than they are for good golfers. The low handicap holes on courses are always par 5s. Good players joke about it – but its not an accident, there is actual data behind making the handicaps for holes. Low skilled players cannot handle long golf holes. Give them a ball that goes 20% further than today’s and a 500 yard par 4 is going to be much harder for them than a 140 yard par 3. And the opposite is true for good golfers. A shorter ball and shorter hole is much more fun for the entry level golfer, and I’d argue just as much if not more fun for the best in the game.

  6. Duane

    Nov 22, 2017 at 10:48 am

    How does it make it more expensive? A longer ball means a longer course, a longer course means more maintenance, water, seed, everything. That takes more money.

    Additionally – a longer ball brings OB into play more often than a shorter ball. If you’re on a teebox, and you hit a 250 yard drive 6 degrees offline, it may stay inbounds, but if you hit a 280 yard drive 6 degrees offline, it may go OB.

    As to Acushnet’s position – weird, they stand to lose revenue, so they’re opposed to the idea. Color me shocked.

    This isn’t rocket science.

  7. Andrew Cooper

    Nov 22, 2017 at 6:13 am

    Acushnet have every right to fire back. Whatever you think of Acushnet, they’ve invested millions into R & D, production proceesses, QC, and marketing over decades, to develop a brand with a market leading product, the benchmark ball by which all others are judged. And they’ve done it all within the rules set by the governing bodies. They have nothing to apologise for. I’m sure any moving of the goal posts now, or introducing a standardised tour ball, would be met with a sizeable and justified lawsuit from Acushnet.

  8. Jim Thomas

    Nov 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    We have limits on clubs, why not set it in the ball. From here on it can only do this and this. People will continue to buy balls.

  9. chinchbugs

    Nov 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    #bosscomments

  10. Tommy

    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:51 am

    What a shock coming from Wally. I really didn’t need to read this to know what he was thinking. Good opportunity to take a shot at Bridgestone though. He sounds like someone familiar but I can’t put my finger on it…

  11. ROY

    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:40 am

    How can you not easily see that it cost more to build/run a 7500 yard course than a 6500 one – land, maintenance, chemicals. Even wear and tear on the carts…..

    But I didnt make my fortune selling equipment that made 6500 yard courses “unplayable”

    • Regis

      Nov 22, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Just my perspective but I believe that 90 percent of golfers will struggle on courses beyond 6500 yards.I realize that most courses have graduated tee boxes but golfers being who we are, most will play a tee box beyond their comfort level especially when playing in foursomes. This is a big component in slow play and longer rounds. Nicklaus has been warning about this for 30 years. If they dialed back the ball 10 percent most golfers wouldn’t really notice. So the whole debate centers on affecting perhaps 10 percent of golfers.

  12. The Dude

    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Call me cynical, but I don’t think we should listen to the guy whose fortune was made on the modern golf ball.

  13. WigerToods

    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Why don’t you guy link the source articles? You’re not providing any unique perspective on this in your article, so LINK THE SOURCE. Don’t steal credit for other people’s journalistic work by stealing stories.

    • Ben Alberstadt

      Nov 21, 2017 at 8:56 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure how it’s stealing credit if we cite the source? Didn’t link because of the WSJ’s paywall, in this case.

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19th Hole

Pat Perez: The R&A “do it right, not like the USGA”

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Pat Perez opened The Open, as it were, with a 2-under 69, and at the time of this writing, he’s 4 under for the second round and tied for the lead.

Clearly, there’s something Double P likes about links golf. And when he was asked whether he was surprised by how receptive the greens at Carnoustie were after his opening round, Perez shook his head with conviction and said.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA…They’ve got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you’ve got the greens receptive. They’re not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn’t. The course is just set up perfect.”

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”

Pat Perez has no problem speaking his mind. While it has gotten him in trouble in the past, you have to respect his candor. The interesting question, as I asked in the Morning 9, is how many Tour pros agree him?

Sure, it’s unlikely any of Perez’s compatriots will join him publicly in his “R&A does it right, USGA does it wrong” stance, but it’d be very interesting to know what percentage are of the same mind.

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19th Hole

68 at the British Open in the morning, golf with hickories at St Andrews in the afternoon

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Yes, golf fans, just another day in the charmed life (or week, at least) of one Brandon Stone.

Stoney (as I assume his friends call him), came to Carnoustie on the heels of a final-round 60 to win the Scottish Open. All he did in his opening round was fire a 3-under 68. Not bad!

But his Thursday to remember was only getting started as Stone made the 25-mile trip south to the Old Course to peg it…with a set of hickory clubs! Well played, sir, well played.

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19th Hole

Jean van de Velde’s 1999 British Open collapse is still tough to watch in LEGO form

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Gather ‘round, golf fans, for the saddest British Open story ever told–in LEGOs.

Maestro of the plastic medium, Jared Jacobs, worked his singular magic on Jean van de Velde’s notorious final-hole collapse at Carnoustie in 1999.

The interlocking plastic brick cinema begins after van de Velde’s approach shot has caromed off a grandstand railing to land on the opposite side of the Barry Burn.

 

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