As most you know, I am a full time teaching professional and regularly write about instruction. But after watching the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this weekend, I couldn’t help but think of the case some are making for bifurcation.

When golfers watch an event like the AT&T at Pebble Beach, the most celebrated pro-am in the world, they can clearly see the differences between amateur and professional golfers. There was one instance I saw where, because of the difference in the front and back tees, a drive of the pro and amateur came to rest very near each other. From there, the pro hit a 7 iron while the amateur was stuck with a 5 wood. In another case, the professional drove the ball 60 yards past his amateur partner who was a 7 handicap.

The pros are clearly playing a different game — no question about that. So the bifurcation debate, which is mostly about potential changes to the golf ball, rages on. Should the pros play a shorter-flying golf ball than amateurs to protect par and keep classic courses from becoming obsolete? Many say yes, and the fact that courses like Merion don’t play as tough as they used to for professionals makes me want to agree with them. But I’d like to offer a different strategy: let’s make the golf ball and the clubs that amateurs play more lively.

Let’s take 0.83 COR limit off for the amatuers, and let’s make a golf ball that flies further. We know we have the technology to do this, so let’s open it up. I mean, we have aluminum bats in baseball. We just don’t let the best baseball players in the world use them. Sound familiar?

With hot golf balls and hot drivers, the sky is the limit for how much fun golfers can have. Wouldn’t it be fun for the 240 hitter to hit it 280, maybe 300 yards, just to see how the pros play the course? Sure, 15 handicaps will still struggle with direction and distance control, but it seems we might interest a LOT of people in playing the game when they have the chance to reach a par 5 in two.

The other two options are not so good:

  1. Rolling back the distance the ball flies for pros, which does nothing to enhance the amateur game, or
  2. Accepting that the pros are the only ones who can play the course the way they do. After all, the pros already play a course that is maybe 500 yards longer, isn’t that enough?

I’m not so sure it is enough. We know the game is much less appealing when we ask most golfers to play shorter courses, but perhaps they equipment itself would allow for this to happen.

Golf needs more players. To do this, the game has to be more fun. I, for one, would like to see a golf ball and a driver that goes as far as is technologically possible. This is a win/win situation. As a teaching pro, one of my responsibilities is growing the game. I can think of no way better way to do that than to giving the average golfer more distance. At the same time, manufacturers would probably sell more balls and drivers each year since they would be free to make clubs that significantly boosted performance. We all would win.

Of course the State Golf associations, the local arms of the USGA and other governing bodies can make whatever rules they want for state, regional or national competitions. I can tell you from years of experience, however, that it is difficult to get non-competitive players to move up to the front tees when their group plays “the tips.” So let’s allow everyone to go back there and still have reasonable length approach shots into the green.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional and advanced certified instructor, a distinction held by fewer than 2 percent of all PGA Professionals. He is recognized as one of the top instructors in the country, and holds no less than seven PGA awards including "Teacher of the Year" and "Golf Professional of the Year." Dennis directs his own academy in Naples, FL. He can reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

Dennis holds two degrees in education and has worked with golfers of all levels for over 30 years. A native of Philadelphia, Dennis currently directs the Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: April 2014, May 2014

107 COMMENTS

  1. What is needed is to stop calling the front tee box the “ladies tee”, and instead assign a handicap to each tee box and post it — i.e. the red tees are 20 hdcp and up, then 19 hdcp thru 13 hdcp for white tees, 12 thru 7 use blue ….6 thru 0 use can use black

  2. Just did some calculations. No amount of juicing up the ball and the club will get the pro-am duffers hitting the same distance as the pros. Let’s go to the numbers:

    The PGA Tour average clubhead speed is 115mph. Not the big hitters, the average. At a COR of .83, that translates to a carry distance of 277 yards. (The guys shown on TV banging the ball over the bunker 300 yards out are the big hitters, with considerably higher clubhead speeds.)

    The Sunday golfer seldom has a clubhead speed over 100mph. But let’s be generous and compare a pretty strong 100-mph golfer with a just average 115-mph pro. At a COR of .83, that’s a carry of 233 yards. Yes, a big difference.

    Now let’s assume someone can actually build balls and clubs that have a COR of 1.00. (That defies the laws of physics; you can approach 1.00, but never reach it. And I doubt engineers could build to much over .90 today. But let’s assume anyway.) That would give a carry distance of 261 yards. Big improvement, but still 16 yards short of an average pro — worth almost two clubs on the second shot. And it’s harder to get the big COR for the iron they’re going to use on the second shot — so that’s undoubtedly more than two clubs difference.

    That’s just carry distance, you say. What about total distance? Under the same conditions, the longer-carry drive would roll out more as well. So the pros have even more distance advantage. But wait, there’s more. The pros play on deliberately baked fairways, that give lots of roll. The average amateur won’t get anywhere near the rollout of what they see on TV. Again, no comparison.

    So your proposal goes only partway to solve the problem you have identified. Others have questioned whether it is actually a problem — and I do, too. But I’ll restrict my comments here to my area of expertise.

  3. People, people! Bifurcation already exists in golf, and has for many years. It’s called a Handicap.

    Amateurs use them, pro’s don’t.

    Proper education on how to use the system, combined with golfer’s using the appropriate tees based on ability is the way to go. Courses have multiple tee decks for a reason.

    Equipment bifurcation is just a thinly veiled attempt to disguise the real reason that manufacturers have for wanting it. More equipment in the marketplace = more $$$ in their pockets.

    It’s infinitely more simple to “tweak” the exiting handicap system, if need be, than it is to create two sets of rules or “handicap” equipment.

  4. I see 2 problems …

    1. Dennis is talking about the very elite of playing professionals who do hit it miles, partly because of equipment and partly because they all very skilled and talented sportsmen.

    So what about the rest of the professionals? Not every professional hits it 280/300 yards. My driving distance is only 270 average, which is short by modern standards and I’m not alone either, at the lower end of the golf professional food chain there are lots of “medium” hitters who would be penalised even more than the long hitters would if the rules and regulations limited the distance using the golf ball. Sure, changing the 300+yard drive down to 270 might sound good in theory but that would drop my distance down from 270 to around 245 and that’s no good either – 270 is still a fair ol’ way but 245 just isn’t long enough to reach long par 4’s or the par 5’s, so the shorter hitters end up losing.

    2. The other issue with bifurcation is co-sanctioned events, i.e. US Open / British Open. It just won’t work. You’ll have professionals using one set of equipment and qualifying amateurs using another set of equipment. Well, unless, you specify what equipment standards are and that will mean qualifying amateurs will have to change equipment for the event and we’re talking your average amateur here, we are talking about the PubLinks Champion, US Am Champ, British Am Champ, etc. – these guys are not monkeys with a bat – these are seriously talented players who have to get used to new equipment for these events…

    In my opinion, bifurcation won’t work.

  5. Argh! If I read any more proposals for equipment rule bifurcation, I fear I will suffer a stroke. Golf can be expensive which most assuredly can have a negative impact on participation. Pray tell, how can the further enabling of OEMs to sell 400 yard selfcorrecting drivers reduce those expenses? I prefer to golf outside and not in my living room on a HD television. Bifurcation in the equipment rules is not going to convince those who do not like the idea of going outside where they might be confronted by fresh air, wind, sun clouds, varying temperature or,Lord forbid, rain. Golf participation is declining. In that regard, golf is no different than baseball or pickup football.One need only to drive by any park to see empty diamonds and fields to understand the new recreational paradigm. 400 yard drivers are not going to induce the homebound to venture forth onto the wilds of a golf course. Golf takes time to learn and can never be mastered.400 yard drivers will not enhance anyone’s learning nor will it get anyone any closer to mastering the game.The actual pace of play needs to be spead up but how do 400 yard drives accomplish this goal? Their is a cry to make golf fun. I find it fun when in the face of all of my shortcomings I can still get my birdies. An earlier commentator expressed a desire to reach a par 5 in two so that they could “experience what a pro does”.I would love to run the mile under 4 minutes. Alas! I am most unlikely to do so. I can drive my car a mile in less than 4 minutes.I suggest that the feeling I derive from driving my car is substantially different than that I might have from running a sub 4 minute mile.The 99.9% of us who golf should not endeavor to demean the game so that we can feel good about ourselves. In short, unless one is either an employee of or a stockholder in an OEM, there is no good reason to bifurcated the rules governing equipment. Golf has problems. Bifurcation addresses none of those problems.

  6. For our group, we use the rules we want to. Lift and clean anytime, 18″ gimmes, one mulligan front and back, modified stableford, and we have a blast.

    We only follow the rules strictly when we play a tournament.

  7. I think a lot of pros are looking at their hay-day of golf growth, which was 98-2007. That was everyone’s hay-day if they are between the ages of 35-65. I’m not the first to say it, but “it’s the econonmy, stupid.” The arguments about “bifurcation” always come around with more ferver when there is a rule change. We’re discussing it now because of the anchoring ban; and the last time was with the new groove rules. Take a step back and look at the equipment that the pro’s are using, and realize there already is bifurcation. I don’t see any pro playing a distance ball, or a draw biased driver, or a wide soled, hybrid like 6 iron.
    If you assume that the economy can support more growth (I don’t, so I actually think pro’s ought to circle the wagons and make sure the rounds stay the same, so the game isn’t shrinking), then Pace of play is the issue, I live in Dallas, where there are a lot of people who can actually play, and my average round at a municiple course is 4 hours 15 minutes. If I play with my regular 4some on an empty course, we finish in 3 hrs 10 minutes. Telling the guy to pick up, if he has a 30 footer for triple, is the way to increase the pace of play. When I play with a buddy that can’t break 110, I tell him (her) that they have to pick up when they reach triple. Most really poor golfers don’t really like putting anyway, so it doesn’t effect their enjoyment. Also, the hidden benefit here, is that they have more realistic goals, because they want to hit the green in 3 or 4, which is more reflective of their skill level anyway. As a side note, I pick up at triple also when playing with my buddies.

  8. There was nothing wrong with the game of golf in the persimmon and balata era. The game was virtually unchanged from the 30’s to the early 90’s. Even early metal woods played basically the same as persimmon. The game maintained a historical relevance for over 60 years. Sarazen hitting a 4 wood into the cup at Augusta for the “shot heard around the world” was not much different that Jose Maria hitting 4 wood into the same hole 50 years later.

    The thing most people forget is that there was a reason golfers carried long irons. You see, a classic par 72 championship course is typically comprised of 10 four pars. Three long ones, meaning 2,3 or 4 iron approach shots. Four mid range, 5,6,7 iron approaches, and three short four pars leaving 8,9, PW. This was designed to properly test the skill level of a quality golfer, pro or good am player.

    Another point is that the shape of a par 4 and par 5 green are different on a quality classic track. This is due to the trajectory of shot coming into the green. A long par 4 need more depth to accept a lower shot. The par 5 can be designed with a shallower depth adding a risk reward situation. The same lower trajectory shot needs to be hit more precisely into a par 5.

    This whole idea of pros only hitting short irons into 4 pars is silly. Mostly mid irons into 5 pars is sillier. If you understand golf, the pro game is horrifically boring to watch these days.

    Was Rory’s US Open record really such a great feat on a course with light rough and greens that held like a dart board? While it may have been good for TV ratings an magazine sales, it belittles the efforts of the great players of the past. Hogan’s US Open record of 8 under par held for many years until Nicklaus equaled it. Hand Rory persimmon and balata with thick US Open rough and make him play under similar conditions and I can assure you he doesn’t shoot 8 under.

    With the ball going 15% farther, the classic 6900 yard course needs to be just shy of 8000 yards. What is the point?

    If weekend ams hit the ball 300, then the pros will hit it 400. Then you end up with the same absurd arguments.. and then the ams want to know what it is like to hit it like the pros do at 400, then when that happens the pros advance even further and it’s more of the same madness.

    A while back they handed Snedecker a set of persimmon and blades and had him play a classic track down at Hilton Head and he shot 80. He was a good sport about it, and commented how much appreciation he had for guys like Trevino who could use that gear and shoot 66. That is what impresses me.

    Then of course there is the whole other side of playing persimmon, the sound of it… the beauty and aesthetic. All that stuff is missing now.

    Longer courses become cost prohibitive over time, slower rounds, increase maintenance costs, environmentally unfriendly. People should also be encouraged to walk the game. If only for the good of your health.
    I’d rather pay a kid to caddy, and teach him a bit about proper golf.

    Grow the classic game. That I can agree on.

  9. I am also curious as to why so many people think we are losing players or that the game of golf is not growing. I live in a town of about 400K in south Texas and there isn’t a tee time available at either of our municiple courses on a weekend unless you book a week in advance. Even weekdays are packed out and unless you get the first tee time of the day you better be planning on being there for at least 5 hours. The biggest problem IMHO is pace of play. I’m not sure what the perfect solution is but theres no doubt that something needs to be done.

  10. Amazing responses to this statement. The Pros do play a different game, I know that for a fact having been on both sides of the fence. I was once a long hitting (with wood and Balata) and played in some events. Today I am old and frustrated because age and injuries has made the game difficult. Distance is a big factor and I know that it happens to everyone, but does really have to happen. Would you enjoy the game more if you could get more yards out of a shot, be able to Putt for Birdies again and enjoy the satisfaction of that?

    I know, move up to the forward tees, play the sr tees, or the Lady tees, but is that fun for a man, to logger up to the Ladies tees. What I am getting too is that the guy is right, have restrictions on the good competitors, but make equipment available that will allow the older, or not so gifted player enjoy the game also.

    I see no big deal about this and have to laugh at some of the posters who really think they are hot sh*t and above that. Most of them can’t break an egg anyway. Before you get nasty realize that I was a plus 4 for many years before turning Pro, and my low round is 64, and I have had 9 aces. My low aggregate score on my home course is 37 for 18 holes, but that was years ago and at 74 it would be nice to be able to shoot a good score again from the members tees, and enjoy popping one now and then.

    Thats all, and understand what I am saying before ripping me. :O)

  11. I think this article is a concession that advances in technology thus far haven’t done anything to improve the enjoyment of the game, so why think more “advances” will help? It’s fools gold at best. Either you get golf or you don’t. If you get golf then playing with technology from the 1950’s still makes for a fun game, if you don’t you probably never will.

    Why are we trying to change the game of chess into a 7 hour game of checkers?

  12. My gut reaction is ‘You’re insane’ but that simply isn’t the case. When you say that’golf needs more players’ you’re really saying you need more students and more income. ‘Good for the game’ has always meant ‘gimme more money’.. Maybe the problem is you’re not very good at your job, and PGA credentials don’t really impress me but thanks anyway. I’ve been a professional since 1996 and wouldn’t join the PGA on a dare, doesn’t really affect my business and I have to say no occasionally to new students because there aren’t enough hours in the day to instruct them. If you want amateurs to hit the ball further my best advice would be to teach them to do that if you can and if you don’t mind stop dumbing down the hardest game ever invented. It isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s the point.

  13. I agree that letting hacks have longer equipment will just lengthen the time of play. How can you compare the pro game, anyway? They hit greens from 200 yards like I do from 100. No equipment is going to make up for that number. We could use a little help on having shorter tees, and naming based on your typical driver length. People should respect that – not their testosterone. I play whites at 5900-6200 but too often the reds are 5600-5800. My wife needs a 4800-5200 option to keep her coming back. From 5600, she takes 6 shots to approach the green on a par 5 480 yards – yes, they exist. Only a couple of private courses in the area have a green tee. If the muni’s want shorter rounds, encourage at least another tee box. If they blunted the ball, I’d have to move up. My wife will go back to gardening. Stop punishing the guy over a 14 handicap, someone needs to pay the bills. Not enough single digits to keep the courses open.

    The exotic courses can continue at 7300+ yards, but local courses need to feed their audience. And the USGA needs to come up with a better solution than cutting my distance to keep courses workable for the pros.

  14. Here is my thought on your proposal….

    1. What does this do for USGA events. What happens when the US Amateur qualifies for the masters and starts poking it by all the pros and wins.
    2. People have always wanted to hit it far but most golfers don’t want to play clubs that the Tour guys can’t use. Look at the new grooves rule. Every recreational player I see is playing the new grooves. They won’t even consider the old grooves even if you explain to them the advantages. The funniest part about all of this is the PGA Tour is already playing better equipment then every amateur golfer. They get the first drivers off of the mold, all their clubs are perfectly tailored to their swings, and they have unlimited data provided to them about the areas they need to improve.