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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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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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