I must admit that I was surprised and humbled when told I’ve been named Czar over all of golf. I asked about the process and was told that upon investigation the computer drives failed but the appointment stands. I was afraid it would eat into my gin rummy time, but given the lack of focus involving participation I have decided to accept.
I do not plan to dismantle any of the current organizations and those of you who openly questioned my election process will be forgiven over the next several decades. There will also be a new event starting at the regional level, “The (Mandatory) Czar Homage Invitational,” featuring a huge field and colossal entry fee: details forthcoming except for distribution of the entry fee.
As promised before being elected, I will devote my time and energies to setting up a format where golf courses can combat the “too slow, no fun” malaise that is effecting the game. I will also drop any pretense of formality and go forward in a conversational tone. As Czar, my legacy will be seeing participation increase to a comfortable level. This does not mean I’m ignoring cost, good management and associated issues. It means my first goal is to improve the game as a value proposition.
Some facilities have attempted a leadership position by moving players up to shorter tees under the “Tee It Forward” influence. With a few exceptions, the effort is C-worthy and emblematic of the lack of thought which resulted in the original problem.
A short course with bland, uninteresting holes is only slightly better than one with spectacular holes that are too long for 90 percent of players. There’s no question that moving up benefits the majority of players, but I want the assembled minds in the industry to take that objective and do so with the combined goal of a shorter and still challenging layout.
As Czar, I don’t really have to do this, but to show my humanitarian side, let me start by apologizing to women golfers. I will write about men’s lengths and layouts because it’s easier for me and I’m lazy. I can provide specifics for women and if anyone is serious in that area I suggest they contact Carol Mann of the LPGA’s Hall of Fame. She did the best job of altering a course to be “woman friendly” that I have encountered (email address available upon request).
I realize golf courses are not easily adjusted. What follows is a statistic-based analysis of what it should be. I say “statistic-based” because the guidelines emanate from data on more than 1 million handicaps. If you really want to improve, you will look at the concepts and change what you can.
First we establish the back tees. Every course, public or private, has some number of long-hitting, good players and they deserve the challenge. The difference is that these tees will be identified as being for a small percentage of the players and the “real courses” are shorter but very challenging.
Since there is a historical association with the color of tees and who is supposed to play there, my first suggestion is new tee names and colors. The name “Czar Tees” is available with rental terms to be negotiated.
Wind and terrain are major factors and must be considered. It’s not how long a hole measures, it’s how it plays. Obviously, unless you live in West Texas or Oklahoma, the wind won’t be predictable (it never stops, and yes, I have lived in both places).
Look at the great links courses of Europe where they design holes around prevailing winds. Trust me, they have great layouts. So as I lay out ground rules, understand that theoretically each hole has been factored for the conditions. The other premise is that the average golfer gets to hit something in the neighborhood of an 8 iron into par-4 holes.
For the record, 8 iron is the average club tour players hit into par-4’s on the Tour. This is a key factor. It really isn’t about where the tees are or how long the hole measures; it’s about where you play from into the green so you can hit the ball into the air and have it land and stop on the green.
The unthinking rush to front tees has produced a lot of 450-to-480 yard par-5 holes. The majority are dumb holes, still three shots for most everyone, but you can hit almost anything off the tee, anything for a second shot and still have a relatively short third shot. The great unwashed can whip something around 210 yards with a decent tee shot and have 180-to-190 yards for a second shot.
Assuming that a player can hit a 7 or 8 iron about 140 yards, we should have par 5 holes of 530 yards or more, not 475 yards. A downhill par-5 with a fast fairway should play longer than 530 yards, while an uphill par-5 or one that plays into the wind should player shorter. Let me repeat that I’m talking distances for the majority. Challenges for long-hitting, good players are handled very well by today’s architects.
I’ve seen a lot of par 3’s that play something like 180 yards over a 30-foot deep water hazard replete with man-eating creatures. Let’s move those up to about 150 yards. If it’s a fairly open fairway where golfers can roll the ball onto the green, 190 yards is not out of the picture. If the green is protected by 18-foot deep traps where you can break an ankle getting in and out, let’s shallow them out.
The bottom line is that par-3 holes should range from 120 yards with small, protected greens to 190 yards with a helpful fairway.
Par 4 holes now become more obvious from our experiences with the par-3’s and par-5’s. Drivable par 4’s are a great addition to some tour courses. Good for them, but they’re not applicable for us. Longer par 4’s (up to 400 yards) should feature straighter, faster fairways that encourage a ball to roll onto the green. Shorter par-4’s can obviously be more nefarious with curves and rough, and my personal reaction is that these types of holes are where great architecture can truly emerge.
I have a personal favorite par-4 that measures 340 yards and plays uphill. I swear it plays closer to 400 yards and the very memory of hitting a decent drive and needing a hybrid to have a chance just bugs me. But I CAN play it, unlike many others at 430-yard holes. Those leave me thinking about fishing more.
For those of you obsessed with numbers, I can provide a playable course between 6000-and-6600 yards under normal conditions. Remember, the back tees will still be in the 7000-yard range. For the golf architects bemoaning the low level of current business, I suggest that applying their skills to this concept creates more business opportunities. Let them be known for designing fun, playable courses and altering current ones accordingly.
Who pays for all these makeovers? That will be covered in the next and final issue.
The death of the 3-iron and what it means for your bag setup
The 3-iron is almost extinct. It sounds like an odd statement, but it’s very true. Don’t believe me? Go try and buy one in a set. They are not easily found.
As we evaluate this topic, I’ll refrain from specs from “players” clubs as these are not the irons normally purchased. Yeah, it might skew the data, but even the players capable of playing the long irons are opting out of the 3 iron. And let’s be honest, should any of us be playing a blade 3-iron?
Mizuno only offers 4-PW in the JPX line now. Titleist only offers a 3-iron in T100s, while the rest are void of 3-irons. TaylorMade provides 4-PW in the P790, P790Ti, and P770. Callaway has done the same, only offering a 3-iron in the “players line” of clubs, while the rest is again void of the-iron. Cobra golf has also followed suit.
So are 3-irons just too hard to hit? Is that why no one is buying them, thus causing the OEMs to stop making them? The only ones left to buy are the “players” 3 irons, and those aren’t even reasonable unless you’re a professional.
What if I told you we were being deceived? What if I told you the 3-iron is still very much alive in all the iron sets available but under the guise of a different number?
Let’s hop into the “wayback machine” and take a quick look at the history of iron lofts.
The year is 1970, and the vast majority of irons available are blades. You know, the razor-sharp leading edges that are ready to break your wrist with a deep divot.
The image above is an actual snippet from a catalog from the ’70s. At this point, the 1-iron was virtually extinct, and in 1975, Lee Trevino was immortalized by his joke about how God couldn’t hit a 1-iron, which typically fell in the 18-degree range at the time. 2-irons were standard issue in the set, and the lowest loft you might find is 20 degrees.
Then the ’80s came, and things started to progress. As you might expect, lofts started to decrease. It wasn’t because of flight windows, or launch numbers, because they didn’t have that kind of technology readily available to measure those attributes. It was simply a quest for distance.
Then in the ’90s, you’d pretty much see all iron sets with 21-degree 3-irons, down to 48-degree PW’s, and 21 degrees being the norm for the lowest lofted 3-iron. 2-irons at this time were typically 18 degrees and available by request only.
Then came the 2000’s, an era we all should be familiar with. This is where things started to get interesting. Not only because lofts continued to be strengthened, but because the hybrid became a new option to replace the long irons. Adams Golf made a killing as it perfected this golf club, creating the Idea line that was in the bags of most of the senior tour players and many of the PGA Tour players. These were a fan favorite at retail too. The hybrid was an easy long iron to hit and quickly started to replace 3-irons in golf bags across the country and even on tour.
By this time the pitching wedge lofts started to get pushed to 46 degrees, which was a big jump, to be honest. In the 1970s, MacGregor was making pitching wedges with 49 degrees of loft. So, for the 90’s to be around 48 degrees, it wasn’t too much of a shock. But in the 2000s, we now saw PW’s drop to 46 degrees; a half club stronger. This is where the downfall began, in my opinion.
The first decade of the 21st century needed the gap wedge, also known as the approach wedge or utility wedge or just plain old “wedge.” Now, keep in mind, this club wasn’t anything new. The gap wedge existed ever since the beginning because at 50-52 degrees it was simply a pitching wedge from the ’70s. But it became a necessary element for the bag since the lofts of every iron were starting to move farther and farther away from the sand wedge.
Now in 2020, the average loft of the PW is 43.5 degrees, and the average 4-iron loft is 20.6 degrees. Turns out, the 4-iron from 2020 is .3 degrees stronger than the average 2-iron (20.9 degrees) from 1970. We have come full circle! Instead of maintaining those classic numbers, of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW, the new sets are labeled 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, P, G.
I wonder how many golfers out there carry a 4-iron thinking it’s a club they can hit? Probably too many! Obviously, the 3-iron is dead at this point, since it would actually carry the loft of the elusive 1-iron Trevino claimed was unhittable!
Now, it’s time to discuss how we got to this point. You’ll hear a lot of companies talk about “flight windows” or “launch angles” and how it was changed by engineering, lowering CG’s, and increasing speed through thin faces. Some will talk about how the ball has changed, and it just launches higher, and it requires the lofts to be strengthened, or it will just go too high!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is all a bunch of baloney, and here is why: They started making gap wedges as part of the set. If the launch was too high or the window was too different, why make a matching gap wedge with the same technology and have the loft of a pitching wedge from the 1990s? Wouldn’t that launch or window then be too high for that club too? And yet you still need to buy another gap wedge to fit the 52-degree range. If the average golfer bought a 2020 game improvement set today, they would find the set make up to be 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, PW (43.5 degrees), Gap #1 (48.6 degrees), Gap #2 (52 degrees). That means if you happen to carry a 56 and a 60 degree, you now have the same amount of label wedges (5) as you do irons (5)!
Five wedges in the bag! Does anyone think this is weird?
Furthermore, when was a higher launching iron shot a bad thing? Wouldn’t average golfers benefit from a steeper angle of descent so the golf ball stops quicker on the green?
I conducted a study where I tested a Titleist 716 MB 8-iron with 39 degrees of loft to a TaylorMade P790 9-iron with 40 degrees of loft. All the data was captured on the Foresight GC2 launch monitor. It wasn’t a perfect test since they didn’t have the same shaft or loft, but my findings were surprising none the less. They went the same distance, almost down to the decimal. The Titleist went 165.2 yards, and the TaylorMade went 165.1 yards. Launch was only .6 degrees different while peak height was less than four feet different. So, unless you are Tiger Woods, you are not noticing a difference out on the golf course.
Some of you might think, “so, the label on the bottom of the club changed, it’s all going the same distance. So, what’s the big deal?” To me, it’s the confusion it creates more than anything. By decreasing the lofts, you’re just making the numbered iron go farther, and you are creating even bigger problems by having large gaps with the sand wedge when all amateurs need those clubs. It’s also putting clubs into the hands of golfers when they have no business hitting, like the 4-iron with 20 degrees of loft. Titleist has already made a T400 5-iron with 20 degrees of loft, and that’s just silly.
There also is the argument that golfers love distance, and when they start playing and can hit a 7-iron relatively far, it helps grow the game. Growing the game isn’t a bad thing, but if they are new to the game, they shouldn’t have any preconceived notions of how far to hit a 7-iron, and that means loft at that point becomes irrelevant.
I will not refute that a 40-degree lofted game improvement iron will be slightly longer than an identical lofted players club, but I think you’d be surprised to see the actual difference is a maximum of about three yards longer. The technology works, but by no means is it so substantial that we need to change the label on the bottom of the golf club.
The bottom line is that loft is king, regardless of the technology involved, and I have seen, but one equipment company make a change backwards! This is TaylorMade with their P770 irons. In comparison the P790, they increased the loft by one degree in the short irons and up to two degrees in the long irons, to add height and spin to the irons to improve performance. Imagine that, more spin and height are an advantage! And that was backed by their testing and their data.
Now to even further nail down my point, it is worth noting that TaylorMade Golf offers the highest lofted Pitching Wedge in the industry at 49 degree, which are in the Tiger lofts of the P7TW irons. That same iron set has a 22.5-degree 3-iron. At 22.5 degrees, it is typically the lowest-lofted iron in the golf bag of the best iron player on the PGA Tour in 2019. Of course, he has the skill to play an iron with lower loft, but the point that history reveals to us is that the effective loft of playability for an iron is about 22 degrees and higher. Anything lower lofted than that is typically replaced with a hybrid. This is not just a trend for the amateur golfer either, and it is even happening on tour with the best players in the world.
We will probably never see the lofts rolled back, but the least we can do is update Lee Trevino’s quote, “if you ever find yourself in a thunderstorm, lift up your 4-iron, because not even God can hit a 4-iron.”
The Gear Dive: Going scorched earth on Tiger documentary
On this episode of TGD, Johnny goes in hard on the HBO documentary Tiger.
Club Junkie: My favorite G425 driver? Reviewing Ping’s NEW G425 lineup!
Ping’s new G425 line of clubs was just released this week and I have had them out on the range! Comparing the G425 LST driver to the Max and what one worked best for me. The rest of the lineup is just really easy to hit and very forgiving. Ping has crafted a great lineup of clubs that are easy to hit and will make the game more enjoyable for those who play them!
Bryson DeChambeau watches on in awe at 302-yard 8-iron strike
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Justin Thomas apologizes for ‘inexcusable’ homophobic slur at Sentry
Patrick Reed or Paige Spiranac: Who would you rather have on a GolfWRX podcast?
Golf 101: If you could only pick one wedge loft to use, what would it be?
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It might be a good idea to cut down your driver
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