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Opinion & Analysis

A few thoughts on spectator-less golf tournaments

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I hate to admit it, but I have to be honest. Golf is not a great sport to watch live.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.

The PGA Tour, and other professional tours do the absolute best they can. But here’s the difficulty

  • The players are really spread out. Unless you are a “find a spot and park” kinda fan, trying to watch your favorite player for 18 holes can be tough. It’s a LOT of walking, especially when you consider all of the stopping and crossing back and forth you have to do. They get to walk down the fairways, you do not. Unlike when you show up to an arena with a ticket and know exactly where the action is happening, you can’t get that in golf unless you are around the 18th on Sunday. For casual observers, it’s often hard to “get into the action.”
  • It can be hard to find a place to actually see shots. Unless it’s a TPC, or a course designed with events in mind with stadium mounding, you don’t usually see much—this is why so many people employ the lets park here mentality…but do you really want to watch approach shots all day?
  • It’s often a full-day commitment. When you go to almost any other sporting event, you at least know there is going to be a time limit set for the game (let’s excluded baseball with this one). Golf doesn’t have that, and when you consider being out in the elements all day vs. inside an air-conditioned stadium arena, it once again can make it tough for a lot of fans.

This doesn’t mean I don’t love going to tour events, I actually LOVE it, and obviously, so do a lot of other people, but I have a very different approach than a lot of fans. I generally hit the range and practice area and watch pros go through their routines—its endlessly fascinating, and you never get to see that stuff on TV. I like to follow lesser-known players on the course, which means I actually do get to see a lot of shots since it’s not crowded—not to sound like a golf hipster, but following a marquee group is just not my style. Plus, since I, like many of you reading this, am a golf nut, it means I get to hang out with a bunch of like-minded people on a golf course? What could be better than that?

But the initial question still remains, what if there were no fans on the course for tour event? We got to see some of that this past Thursday at Liberty National when, because of weather, fans were delayed and the pros went out without them. It was quite the sight to see, no roars, no “get in the holes” just golfers on a course. It was like we got to peek inside what it would really be like to just watch these golfers play—or how you experience it every time you tee it up. I know I have never had 200 people watching me miss a fairway in long rough, only to have it found in 30 seconds thanks to a search party. Most golfers will never play with a forecaddie, but as pros, they have essentially hundreds of people to help.

By the way, if you have ever wondered what it would be like to watch pros play with no (or at least very few fans) check out a Monday qualifier, or a U.S. Open Sectional—very skilled golfers, up close, with no ropes. It’s a vastly different vibe than what you would see lining the fairways of a tour event. It’s just golfers trying to post their best scores which for serious golf nutters can be a real thrill.

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Mike

    Aug 11, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve had everything from a VIP Major ticket to a standard day pass. I think of ‘live’ golf the way I do gong to the ballpark…go w/ friends, eat, drink, shoot the BS & watch when something exciting is going on. Otherwise, you’re going to stand in the hot sun to watch 2 guys each hit a shot. Then, you’ll wait 12 more minutes for the next 2 guys to do the same thing. That w/b the same pattern for the next 6 hours. I record every golf event (to avoid the endless commercials) except for the Majors (where there are far fewer commercials). Much more enjoyable in the comfort of my home!

    I can give kudos the the LPGA, they really encourage much more fan contact at their events.

  2. Caroline

    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:29 pm

    For anyone into how the pro’s do it this is the only way to really see it done right…just last year I was on a short 390 yard par four and 3,4, irons were hit off the tee a lot maybe 85% after 3 days of watching the pros hit that 240, 260 yard iron shot I came away with one thing for sure “What fore ward shaft lean?

  3. Speedy

    Aug 9, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Relax, enjoy the tournament. Follow who you like, when you like. Meet people. Enjoy life. Don’t worry about missing golf shots.

  4. TR1PTIK

    Aug 9, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Went to the 2018 PGA Championship in St. Louis. I don’t think I’ll ever go watch a tournament live again unless I’m fortunate enough to go to the Masters. Like you said, it requires a lot walking and hiking and potentially missing out on some spectacular golf (if you choose to follow a dud for instance). Parking it in one spot is also a poor choice IMO because as you also mentioned, who wants to see the same shot over and over? Golf is much more enjoyable when played or when watching on TV – where you can see a variety of shots from a variety of players while sitting at home.

  5. Acemandrake

    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Follow the first group of the day.

    You’ll beat the crowds, see the entire course, watch good players manage their rounds and be out of there by noon.

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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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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Urban Golf Performance owner Mac Todd

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura, Johnny chats again with his old pal Mac Todd Owner and Operator of Urban Golf Performance in Los Angeles. They cover the growth of the business, what the new Club member experience may look like and much much more.

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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The Gear Dive WITB Edition: Adam Scott

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In this WITB edition of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with JJ VanWezenbeeck and Aaron Dill of Titleist Golf on the ins and outs of Genesis Invitational Champion Adam Scott’s setup.

Adam Scott WITB details below

Driver: Titleist TS4 (10.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting, 2-gram weight)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 80 X

  • Scott put the Kuro Kage in play this week. Per Titleist’s J.J. VanWezenbeeck, “Adam Scott switched to the TS4 driver at the ZoZo Championship due to head size, shape, and improved launch to spin ratios. This week, after discussions with Adam, he went to a shaft he had previously played for increased stability. He felt the shaft went a little far and he lost head feel. We went on course with lead tape to get the feels to match up then weighted the head to preferred swing weight after testing.”

3-wood: Titleist TS2 (16.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Rombax P95 X

Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-iron), Titleist 680 (4-9 irons)
Shafts: KBS Tour 130 X

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (48.08F, 52.08F, 56.10S), Vokey Design SM8 WedgeWorks (60.06K)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold AMT Tour Issue X100

Putter: Scotty Cameron Xperimental Prototype Rev X11 (long)

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Scott marks his ball with dots in the pattern of the Southern Cross, which is featured on the Australian flag.

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet

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