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The Wedge Guy: Has the game gotten too hard? (Part 2)

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First of all, thanks to all of you who chimed in on this discussion I began in last week’s post. In general, the comments seemed to fall into two groups—those who agreed that the game has gotten too difficult around the greens, and those who stated that modern equipment has made the game easier, and that fast, smooth greens are a godsend.

To those who espoused that latter position, I don’t totally disagree with you…but only for more accomplished players (but I do think green difficulty has gone too far). I guess I missed making my key point, which was that too many modern green complexes have shifted the historic challenge of golf from the full swing striking of a golf ball to make it go where you want, to the highly sophisticated skillset required to pitch, chip and putt around and on these
heavily protected, super-fast and mostly undulating greens.

It seems most of us agree that modern equipment and teaching technologies have dramatically streamlined the learning process so that achieving quasi-mastery of making a golf ball get airborne in the general direction you want it to go has been made more efficient. My point was that while striking the golf ball has become exponentially easier, the act of making it go in the hole from the last 20-30 yards has become exponentially harder. And I don’t think this
is good for the game as a whole.

It’s no secret that golf participation is not enjoying any positive vibes. Not enough new golfers are taking up the game, the majority of courses are struggling to stay viable, and many are even closing. I would even suggest that Topgolf and its clones are enjoying success because their activity is totally focused on hitting golf shots…and the challenges of finishing the hole are not part of the picture.

But for all of us who love golf, recruitment of new players is crucial to continued access to our favorite courses. If the game cannot attract and retain new participants, those of us who must support any given club or public course is a declining population. And that can only lead to closures and loss of facilities that we enjoy. So, I contend that if you love golf, you simply have to be part of the solution.

The USGA initiated the “Tee It Forward” campaign, which was certainly a step in the right direction. Who wants to play a course where you cannot reach the par-4 holes in two shots or the par 5’s in three? I am a huge proponent of every golfer choosing a set of tees that allow them to do that, and it has nothing to do with “Ladies” or “Seniors” tees. It only has to do with your own physical abilities – how far can you hit driver, 5-iron, etc. For Pete’s sake, play the tees that make the game play like it should.

But teeing it forward doesn’t address the topic I have put forth for discussion: Even if that lady/senior/beginner plays the forward-most tees to match their strength profile, they still have to contend with the same heavily bunkered, undulating, lightning-fast green complexes as the championship golfer. That makes no sense if we are trying to attract new players.

I watched a few holes of a high school girls’ tournament Sunday, with some of the top teams in South Texas in the field. On a windy weekend, scores ranged from (+6) 148 for the eventual 36-hole champion to several scores over 300 for two rounds; what we should be concerned about is that well over half the field did not shoot under 200 for the two rounds.

Many of these young ladies exhibited very functional tee-to-green skill sets, but they got killed by our green complexes, taking 4-5 strokes to navigate from greenside more often than not. And I have witnessed the same disparity between the elite players and the bulk of the field in boys’ tournaments as well.

If we think any of these kids are going to continue to play golf recreationally after high school, we are delusional. Very simply, this cannot be fun. In fact, it is downright humiliating to take two swings to move the ball 250-350 yards or more, then twice that many–or more–to get the ball in the hole from there.

So, here is my offer of a solution…Green it forward.

If courses would construct a very simple, un-bunkered, relatively flat “beginners’ green” somewhere out front and/or to the side of the regular green, with a speed that runs 5-7 at the most, and maybe even with a larger cup of 6-8”, beginners and less skilled players could enjoy a day of golf without fear and frustration. When their skills have advanced sufficiently to play the regular greens, they can take them on. This just might be a way to reverse the trend of losing players, or not getting them at all.

We let little kids graduate from tricycles to training wheels before we turn them loose on a bike. We let them play soccer with much fewer rules to get them into the game. We lower the basket to 7-8 feet for youth basketball. We let the tykes play T-ball, then coach pitch, to get them ready for Little League baseball.

Why can’t we do the same to get them into golf?

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Michael

    Feb 12, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    I know this is a little off the topic but addresses part of the question of getting new golfers in the game. One of the problems I found for young players is that all kids golf clinics in my area are during the week at hours that people work. Most kids would rather learn in a group setting with other kids.

  2. 8thehardway

    Feb 12, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Build one nice, easy green; mark distances of 5 to 30 feet to the hole in chalk and reserve it for those who want this option 30 minutes prior to their tee time. They can record their putts on a hole-by-hole basis prior to their round and avoid on-course greens once reaching them unless their approach shot lands close to the hole, in which case they have the option to attempt the putt.

    Dedicate part of the existing putting green to this or computerize putting if building a green dedicated to beginners isn’t feasible. With any of these setups, beginners could come any day prior to their round and record their efforts.

  3. Rascal

    Feb 12, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    Just setup some temporary courses in big spaces not being used, like stadiums or sports fields. Don’t need that much room, but perhaps insurance will be the real obstacle.

  4. G

    Feb 12, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Obviously, courses can’t build 18 new green complexes.They could simply mow an area near the green down to a 7 stimp length and let those that want to, play out there. As one of the above commenters noted, he has his beginner children putt out on the foot golf green. The problem is human nature, most people want to play a championship course, regardless if their skill. They want to play like the pros from the back tees on fast greens. It’s stupid, but that’s how most people think-its ego. I really feel like making greens slower would help tremendously. It would also lower costs. I had a friend who owned a course, he was struggling to keep it open. And his biggest expense was the chemicals for greens. As greens get faster more chemicals are needed to keep those greens healthy. The cost from a 9 green to a 12 aporox.doubles just in the chemicals. He eventually closed his course.

  5. PSG

    Feb 12, 2020 at 9:31 am

    This guy always has awesome solutions to problems nobody wants solved. I don’t even know where to start with this “take”. Let’s spend millions of dollars on this nonsense.

    Terry, the best way to research an article is to do research. Do you have anything at all to back up your claim that greens are harder now than before? Make sure your hands and brain are connected before you type another one of these.

  6. Greg

    Feb 12, 2020 at 9:05 am

    Shawn
    Agreed
    Probably the least costly and objectionable would be two separate pin placements per green. Additionally, fill in a few of the needless, penalizing bunkers. Two cost effective measures which simplify and speed up play would be the first steps at progressing our game.

    • Fiorenzo

      Feb 14, 2020 at 11:23 am

      I agree with the placement of two separate pins. Players can decide which pin to play for at the start of the round. I presume that the use of these tees will mean that the round would not be acceptable for handy capping purposes but casual golfers and beginners , I am sure, would not be phased.Filling in bunkers I am not so sure, even if they are the bane of my life.

  7. sroooooch

    Feb 12, 2020 at 7:54 am

    1) Stop making golf 18 holes, real people do not have time or money to play that long. Don’t even make them 9, make places that have 5,6,or 7 holes. Who cares? Just make them short and quick, blue collar people have a lot on their plate. Golf doesn’t fit in.
    2) Build pitch-n-putt courses in urban areas all across the country. The PGA has no problem buying courses that no realistic person is ever going to play and then have the nerve to say they’re “growing the game”. Take the game to kids and stop trying to take kids to the game. It will never grow with that mindset.
    You don’t need to make the game easier, just more accessible, the more people who start at a young age makes the game easier for a lot of people. Building muscle memory at youth is far easier than at an older age. People in golf don’t understand the real world and have made no actual attempts to grow the game. Even the first tee is a flawed system that will not grow the game.
    Cheers

  8. MP Fritze

    Feb 12, 2020 at 7:43 am

    I watch the Pro’s on weekends. I really have nothing in common with them, not clubs, balls,etc. i do have the same enthusiasm, though.
    I’m 76 and shoot to a 16 on public courses. All the new equipment that will come out will not help me get better, but its fun to think it will. Love this game.

  9. Vincent Collier

    Feb 12, 2020 at 7:25 am

    Unworkable… the average cost of adding a green to an existing course is over $75k. So that is a $1.3m improvement before the annual cost of fertilizer and reseeding.

  10. Moritz

    Feb 12, 2020 at 4:34 am

    The problem is that many courses (at least over here in central europe) are already fighting financial troubles. 18 extra greens (which equal a LOT of maintenance costs) might kill them entirely. Plus: around here, too fast greens are very rare. Most of them could be a bit quicker for my taste

  11. Radim

    Feb 12, 2020 at 3:29 am

    I let my children putt into those footgolf holes. They are usually on the side, no hazards around.

  12. Cory

    Feb 11, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    I think these ideas are great. I bet if you took a few muni golf courses in any city and turned them into beginner courses with no bunkers, no rough, and larger and flatter greens people would be lining up to play it. Even better, make it three 6 hole loops so people could play 6 holes in under an hour or tackle all 18 if they’re feeling up to it.

  13. Golf is golf

    Feb 11, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    That s why cooking, cleaning or kniting exist …people who shoot 300 for 36 holes can go play putt putt after a nice day shopping at the mall

    • Cory

      Feb 11, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      Based on that comment, I’m guessing you

      A) don’t have daughters, or even a wife
      B) don’t remember what it’s like to begin learning a new skill

      His ideas are fantastic and would create a path for beginners to graduate to more challenging courses as their skills improve without the fear of being shamed by douchebags.

  14. Tom S.

    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    Meh. You could just design the greens to have some easy pin placements instead.

    I find heavily protected elevated dome greens on every hole where any shot not on target is punished pretty severely followed by a required mastery of a high and soft pitch shot (where you have to make a pretty high risk hardish swing) to be no fun to play. I’m sure it separates the really good players from the just good players but it punishes everyone else. These courses have their place. Good golf course design for the rest of us can have bail out areas on most holes, the ability to run it up onto long par 4’s, and non-psychotic pin placements on flat areas.

  15. Cletus

    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Yeah, I think this is the point of muni golf courses. At least where I live there are plenty of options for beginner golfers with slow easy greens. As a scratch golfer I would never play a gimmicky course like stated above with the two sets of greens. Also, in my experience there are plenty of beginner golfers that like being challenged and play the wrong sets of tees. I think it would be difficult to get them to not want to play the faster more difficult greens when they’re right there.

    • Thomas Steed

      Feb 11, 2020 at 8:23 pm

      You, my friend are an ostrich with its head buried in the ground. There are some players who want to be challenged at the start, but a majority won’t. If you don’t agree m, you lack experience in managing millennials and gen z.

  16. SV

    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    I agree that new green complexes have gotten out of hand. However, with faster greens older courses not designed for these speeds have gotten harder also. Adding to the problem is beginners starting out playing the harder courses. It seems no one starts on Par 3 courses and works their way up to a full size course any more. If they did they would have less frustration, enjoy the game more and continue to play.

  17. Dan

    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that it seems like ever practice green anymore has a no chipping sign up! If the the superintendents had their way, the course would be closed 6 days a week. You wonder why people can’t hit wedge shots from 30 yards in these days?

  18. Tacklingdummy

    Feb 11, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    Golf has gotten harder with tougher tracks and tougher green complexes. However, tougher tracks have their place. As your skills progress, you move to tougher courses. If the scores are getting to high at some tracks for some tournaments, then they should move them to easier courses.

    Beginner golfers get eaten up by tough tracks and really good players would eat up easier tracks too much. So it is best to have a good balance of difficulty of courses in every area. Then golfers can play more difficult courses as their skills progress.

  19. Shawn

    Feb 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    My first thought to this is how would the standard muni get this done? Our local is already struggling to find enough people to mow and maintain the current course, and now building 18 entirely new greens plus having to maintain them? I don’t see that happening. I heard another idea from an older guy at our course one day- cut two holes on each green. Put one in the easiest location on each green, and one in a more difficult location. Players can decide at the beginning of the round which hole locations they’ll play that day, much like they decide which tee boxes to play.
    As for the state of golf for younger players, I completely agree. I have coached high school golf for 20 years now and we constantly tell kids the quickest way to move up the leaderboard is through short game improvement (especially for the girls). They just nod and spend the next hour trying to sneak back to the driving range with their driver…

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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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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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