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Are Today’s Golf Courses Unfair to the Average Golfer?

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For the past two decades, there has been little movement of in the scoring averages, driving distances and handicaps of the average golfer. The average score still hovers around 100, the average drive is still in the 200-yard range and for those who keep handicaps 16 remains the average.

However, in those 20 years golf equipment has evolved exponentially. Advancements include the cavity back iron, vast improvements in the casting process, higher moment of inertia, aerodynamics, lighter/better graphite shafts, center of gravity, better materials such as titanium and tungsten, 460cc heads, hybrids, the evolution of the golf ball and even the lowly golf tee.

So what gives? If lessons aren’t helping the average golfer, technology isn’t helping the average golfer and all those gazillion tips he reads in the golf magazines, not to mention all those Golf Channel and You Tube lessons, where is our average golfer faltering?

  • Is golf really that hard?
  • Is the average golfer really that inept?
  • Are golf instructors really that bad?
  • Are the OEM’s really just selling the average golfer a bill of goods?

Is it any one thing, or a combination of a lot of things? Here’s another theory to add fuel to the fire: maybe today’s courses are simply too hard — too long with too many hazards.

A little over a decade ago, a new course opened up in our area to all kinds of acclaim. It was a beautiful course that received many awards. But for the average golfer it was virtually unplayable. I never heard so many golfers complain about a golf course and how many golf balls they lost per round. Sure, it was beautiful. But, you better hit the ball straight — perfectly straight. How many average golfers hit the ball perfectly straight? The course had to make a number of adjustments to accommodate the average golfer, i.e., the paying customer.

Now, that was an extreme example, but I’ve played a number of newer courses that makes me ask, “What was the designer thinking?” I’ve heard of a few other courses in my area that are user unfriendly, and as a result are struggling. Who wants to go play a course where you lose a bunch of balls, and post a score somewhere north of the Arctic Circle?

Even my home course punishes good shots, e.g., you can hit a good shot and still end up in a hazard (basically you better hit the ball in the fairway or your toast). I’ve played TPC Boston three times and have never lost a ball (the slope I’ve played was 146), however at my home course I average two to three lost balls a round.

So here you have the average golfer. He steps up to first tee, excited to be out on the course, away from the office, away from any of those cares that may be consuming him otherwise. Eighteen holes later, as he puts his clubs in the car, he wonders why he even bothered. Every hole was surrounded by bunkers. What was that creek doing running across the middle of the fairway? Who the heck would put hazard right behind No. 8 green, or right in front No. 12 green? What’s up with that dogleg? There was only one place to put the ball and no where to miss?

That wasn’t a golf course, that was an obstacle course!

Okay, we have better equipment, all those extra years of analysis to further understand the swing, yet we continue to struggle. Well, some of us anyway. So, why don’t designers build courses with the average golfers in mind? And, I’m not talking about Pete Dye, who said:

“Golf isn’t supposed to be fair.”

Build a course and they will come? I don’t know. Maybe. But at the very least make it fair for the average golfer. Do you really need all those hazards? Really? Does that green really require a long, towering iron shot or hybrid? Why not a thinned one? Do you really think the PGA Tour is going to come to your course for four days?

For those you who like a challenge there are plenty of golf courses out there to test you (there is another course in my area that is 8325 yards from the back tees). But, golf should be more fun for the average golfer too. He should walk off No. 18 with a grin on his face, a few golf balls left in his bag, a bit of swagger in his step and maybe a circle or two on his scorecard.

To paraphrase Pink Floyd, Hey Designer, leave those golfers alone!

Click here for more discussion in the “Golf Talk” forum. 

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Sean Foster-Nolan was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and has lived all over the United States. He picked up the game of golf at the age of 50, and currently plays at Harmon Golf & Fitness Club in Rockland, Mass. Sean is passionate about all things golf and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2007. He is a retired counselor, where he last worked with high school kids who had severe emotional and behavioral problems in an alternative high school. His philosophy is treat all people with kindness and respect.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Sean

    Dec 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Some excellent comments here. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Hans

    Dec 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I agree that many of the newer course are built too hard for the average golfer. There was a course in northern Ohio that opened a few years back to a lot of acclaim. Most people that played it once said they’d never go back. Way too many blind shots, hazards placed to punish a slightly mishit ball, etc. That course is now closed. There’s another course that is trying anything to get play. They built a ” championship” course, looks great, but OB is just a couple yards from a very slightly wayward shot. It’s just not fun to play. We’re average golfers, we play for the fun and the challenge. We’re going to hit more shots off the heel, toe, thin, etc and to be punished with a penalty for being OB when you missed the fairway by 10 yards does not make for an enjoyable round.

  3. BigD

    Nov 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Golf course difficulty is not entirely down to length and playing the forward tees does not always ensure a more enjoyable experience irrespective of handicap. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa and my 2 favorite courses measure 6950 yards and >8200 yards. We are 1600m above sea level so the ball flies about 10% further, so an 8000 yard course will play like a 7200 yard course. Difficulty relates far more the design than to length. Deep fairway bunkers, deep bush just off the fairway, large water hazards, heavily undulating greens and deep and lush rough affect playability and difficulty more than sheer length.

  4. TK

    Nov 30, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I don’t think that golf courses are unfair – unless you play from the wrong t-box. A high handicapper should NEVER play anything other than the tees just before the ladies’ t-box (forward tees, I believe). I think you will find that courses are great when played from the appropriate tees. This would also alleviate the 4.5+ hr rounds…

    God Bless,
    TK

  5. Pingback: GolfWRX.com – Are Today's Golf Courses Unfair to the Average … | Golf Grip Instruction

  6. Sean

    Nov 30, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I agree Tom, but sometimes even playing from the correct tees isn’t enough.

  7. Sean

    Nov 30, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Thanks Nate. I also like your idea! It would make it a lot easier for golfers looking for a place to play.

  8. tom

    Nov 29, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    most courses have several different tees you can play from. You should try playing from the front ones if you don’t have the handicap to play at the back ones.

    • Craig

      Nov 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Amen. If a course is too hard for a player, get better. It’s just that simple. I worked hard to be a low single digit handicap. On a difficult course I usually shoot a little higher and I don’t complain.

  9. Nate

    Nov 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Honestly, I think you flushed an iron with this one. Most courses are too difficult for the average golfer and more people would play if it wasn’t so difficult. Maybe a rating system that is easier to understand like a “star” rating. 5 stars professional down to 1 star being beginner. Different handicaps look to different star levels to pick a course that is the right amount of challenge with a higher degree of fun.

  10. Sean

    Nov 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Well Max, I hope you find what you are looking for. 🙂

  11. Mr. Blair M. Phillips

    Nov 29, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Unfair? Not a chance! The only thing that annoyes me about any golf course is “critical golfers and golfers that don’t use garbage recepticals or recycling bins”
    I wish though I had “a few more shekels” so I could play more “strategic” golf courses that were designed by some of the “earlier” strategic golf course designers like H.”Harry” Colt, Mac Macan and Dr Alister MacKenzie and the like. Around here, golf courses designed by men like H. Colt are “impossible to get on” because of the cost. (sigh)
    Max
    Canada

  12. blake

    Nov 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Were u talking about The International being the 8000+ yard course

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Book That Almost Wasn’t a Book: Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons”

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Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” written by Ben Hogan and Herbert Warren Wind, continues to be the largest selling golf instructional book in history. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the book, which was first published in 1957.

Sports Illustrated

The story of how the book was published revolves around Sports Illustrated, which was owned by Time Magazine. The weekly magazine launched in 1954 as an experiment to see if an all-sport publication could survive. In 1956, the publication was on the brink of disaster, having yet to find its audience.

This is the backdrop against which Sydney James, the magazine’s managing editor, received a call from Ben Hogan. Hogan had an idea for an article. Would Sports Illustrated be interested?

James promised to get back to him shortly with an answer. And he did, telling him that the magazine would be very interested in collaborating with him, and that he would begin making the necessary arrangements to get the project off the ground.

Texas Three-Step

James explained his plan to Hogan, which was to arrange for the magazine’s most talented writer, Herbert Warren Wind, and top-rated freelance illustrator, Anthony Ravielle, to visit Hogan in Fort Worth to further discuss his idea.

“Would that be agreeable” he asked?

“Yes,” Hogan replied. He would make himself available as needed.

Writer and Illustrator

Herbert Warren Wind, a graduate of Yale University, was not just a writer, but a literary craftsman. He was without question the finest writer of his time, contributing regularly as a columnist for The New Yorker magazine from 1941-47.

For his part, Ravielle was quickly earning a reputation as one of the most talented illustrators in the country. His expertise was drawing the musculature of the human body in life-like detail. And then having the unique ability to convey a sense of motion with the human form.

A Single Idea

A few weeks later, the two met with Hogan at his office in Fort Worth, Texas. They then made their way to Colonial Country Club. And once there, they walked out to a part of the course where they would not be disturbed. And then Hogan began to explain to the two men what he had in mind.

As they listened to his ideas for the article, they suggested that he consider a five-part series. What they proposed was a sequential pattern of lessons beginning with the grip, the setup, the backswing, and the downswing. The fifth chapter would be a summary and review of what had been presented in the first four chapters.

Hogan liked the idea and agreed immediately.

As Hogan began to explain his thoughts on the swing, Wind began to scribble in his notebook, not wanting to miss a single word. (In later years, when interviewing a subject, modern-day reporters would use a tape recorder, but at that time it had not yet been invented.)

Wind would at times stop Hogan to ask a question or to clarify an important point. And when he reached the point at which he couldn’t possibly absorb another thought, Wind gave way to Ravielle, who armed with a still camera, snapped one photograph after another, capturing the various positions that would ultimately mirror Hogan’s thoughts.

During the next few days, Hogan continued to elaborate on his theories about the golf swing and the logic behind them. As they finished, the three men agreed that they would meet again, either at the end of 1956 or after the first of the year.

Scratch Board

After returning to New York, Wind began writing a rough draft of the five-part series. At the same time, Ravielle started working from the photographs that he had taken earlier. He began by drawing pencil sketches that he would later show to Hogan for his approval before moving on to the final version.

The three gathered together again for a week-long session in January 1957. Hogan was extremely impressed with Ravielle’s sketches, believing that he had managed to capture the very essence of what he was attempting to covey to his would-be readers.

The pencil sketches would be transformed a final time using a “scratch-board” technique that Ravielle had mastered. The scratch-board technique created a uniquely vivid picture, which invited the reader to reach out and touch the seemingly life-like image on the page.

Wind’s spirits were buoyed after meeting with Hogan a second time as he wrote, “Hogan had gone into a much more detailed description of the workings of the golf swing then we had anticipated. Moreover, he had patently enjoyed the challenge and had given it everything he had.”

On returning to New York, Wind and Reveille begin working together, side by side, laying out the text, the illustrations, and captions in page form for each of the five chapters.

Seminole Review

As Wind recounted, “When an installment was completed and had gone through the production department, we airmailed photostats of the pages to Hogan, who was in Palm Beach getting ready for the Masters. I would telephone Ben at his apartment at an appointed time each week, and we would go over each paragraph line by line. A session usually took between 45 minutes to an hour.”

During these sessions, as they reviewed the copy, Hogan was insistent that each word and phrase precisely communicate exactly what he intended to say. Wind recalls one example, when he had written “that at a certain stage of the swing the golfer’s weight had shifted to his left side.” Hogan corrected, “Let’s not say left side,” Adding “That isn’t accurate. In golf, there’s no such thing as a player’s left side. At this point in the swing most of the golfer’s weight is on his left foot and left leg.”

Wind found these discussions exhausting as Hogan worked his way through the copy with a “fine-tooth comb.” As wind wrote, “After these protracted checking sessions with Hogan, I did some deep-breathing exercises to relax myself, but I also had the bracing feeling that even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t be able to detect a smudged adjective or a mysterious verb in the text.”

As they were nearing completion of their work, Hogan asked Wind if he had any suggestions for the series name. As Wind recalls, “I thought for a long moment and then tossed up ‘The Fundamentals of Modern Golf?’”

Hogan mulled it over for a moment and then asked, “How about ‘The Modern Fundamentals of Golf?’” Wind agreed that the reversal in wording was a definite improvement. The series now, for the first time, had both a name and an identity.

The Magazine and the Book

The series was very successful, of course, boosting not only the sales of the magazine but also its circulation. The content of what would eventually become the book appeared in five installments beginning with the March 11, 1957 issue, which in Wind’s exact words, “sold like hotcakes.“

The book was released some five months later in September as a joint venture between Hogan and the magazine.

A Triple Play

Why has the book endured?

The first reason is because of the public’s fascinated with Hogan, not only as player, but as a man. He was a great ball-striker, maybe the best of all time, but there was more to the man than his ability to play golf. He is one of the more complex sports figures in the pantheon of great players. He was a man of secrets who preferred the shadows to the light.

The second reason is the wonderful prose of Herbert Warren Wind, which flows with ease from one paragraph to another, giving the reader at times the feeling of floating on air from one sentence to another.

The third reason is the illustrations of Anthony Ravielle, which describe in dramatic fashion the essence of what Hogan wanted to convey to the reader.

“Five Lessons” was then the collaboration of three men, each one of them the very best in their fields. They were, through luck and circumstance, thrown together in space and time. And maybe once joined together, they sensed the opportunity to create something very special with one purpose in mind — to write one of the best golf instruction books ever. And they succeed.

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Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply

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Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email mailbag@golfwrx.com for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.

Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?

It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.

Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?

It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.

What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?

We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.

Uther Supply’s golf towel lineup

Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?

It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.

It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?

It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.

Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?

Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.

In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.

Bo Links, Co-Founder of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance, holding custom towel developed with Uther Supply

This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?

If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!

What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?

I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.

It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?

We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.

Uther Supply plaid towel on the course

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.

So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at contact@uthersupply.com to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!

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