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The endangered state of Scottish golf

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Florida. May 1993. That is the moment I really got into golf. Sure, like most youngsters of that time, I’d had my dad’s old clubs, shafts cut down with insulating tape acting as the grip, and I belted balls around the back garden with no thought of what I was doing. But that family vacation really made it sink in how good this game is. Round-the-clock coverage on cable, golf shops everywhere, and sunshine–what more can you ask for?

My parents bought me my first set of clubs, we had a couple of trips to the range, a quick nine holes, and a lifelong golfer was born. So why did it take a trip to the United States for a nine-year-old from the home of golf, from the relative golfing mecca of Ayrshire, to take notice of this great sport?

It wasn’t as if it wasn’t booming in the UK at that time. Troon and Turnberry, 15 minutes in either direction, had hosted the Open within five years of each other around that time. Englishman Nick Faldo had won 2 Open Championships in ‘90 and ‘92. He successfully defended the Masters in 1990–Ian Woosnam from Wales succeeded him. And more importantly a Scot, Sandy Lyle, had collected his second major in just three years at Augusta in 1988–after becoming the first Scot since the 1920s to win the Open in 1985.  Golf in the UK was in a great place, and Scotland had its fair share of success at the time with Torrance and Montgomerie joining Lyle at golf’s top table.

If it took that family intervention for me during that period of golfing supremacy, what hope do the children of today have 25 years on?

I imagine the vast majority that play the game took it up in similar fashion to myself. A push from a playing family member or close friend. Different circumstances or timing perhaps, but similar nonetheless. Some will have looked at Montgomerie, Lyle et al and have taken inspiration from them.

So with participation numbers dwindling and clubs struggling, are the kids now having less influence from within the family to take up the game? Is the drop in adult participation affecting the influx from the juniors? That’s worrying, as it’s never been easier, or more affordable (relatively speaking) to get into a golf club. 25 years ago there was waiting lists and huge joining fees. Not now. You can pretty much join up anywhere with little or no joining fee. This trend looks like continuing with the variety of alternatives out there – with little or no encouragement, what incentive is there for a junior to go out in the wind and rain to learn a game that it is deemed expensive and time consuming, and one that takes years to learn when you know you’ll never master it?

Hopefully some of Scotland’s youngsters could take inspiration from the Scots at the elite level of the game – but who exactly would that be? At the time of writing there is ONE Scot in the top 100 of the official golf world rankings. Russell Knox at 59. The next best placed is Martin Laird who isn’t even in the top 150 at present. Both of these guys are based in the US but their skills were honed in Inverness and Glasgow respectively. In the cold and wet. Like the Lyle’s, Torrance’s and Montgomerie’s before them. We invented this game and that is what we have to show for it?

Can you imagine the outcry if the United States stopped producing football players, the Canadians gave up on their ice hockey, or heaven forbid, the All Blacks became an also ran in the Rugby world? So why do we accept it?

Our best golfing achievement of recent times was Paul Lawrie’s Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999–recent being 19 years ago–an indication of how far we have fallen. In the period between then and now, only two Scots have even made a top 10 in a major–Montgomerie on three occasions and Alastair Forsyth in the 2008 PGA. Four top 10s in 53 events since Lawrie’s success. Majors are hard. Only a select few can win one, or even contend in one, but four in 53 is poor when countries such as Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Fiji–none of which have the history and tradition in the game as Scotland–have produced winners. Take nothing away from those guys, but we must produce more players with better quality to compete again at that level.

We haven’t even fared well as a nation in regular events on the European or PGA Tours in that time. Only 13 players since Carnoustie ‘99 have even been in the winner’s circle, combining for 34 wins in total over the two main tours – Montgomerie claiming a third of those himself. 34 wins in 1,686 events (including co-sanctioned events) since Lawrie lifted the Claret Jug.

The home of golf, the country that has given this wonderful sport to the world has combined to win one in every 50 events, or worse, just two percent of the tournaments played on the two main tours. To further highlight the issue, Only Montgomerie since Lyle has reached the OWGR top 10, peaking at No. 2. Russell Knox is the only other to even breach the top 20, briefly hitting 18th.

Kudos to all of these guys who have got the job done. They’ve achieved what we all dream of. But we need to do more. We have a duty to do more. So how do we achieve that?

We hosted the first ever Open Championship at Prestwick Golf Club and we currently have five of the ten Open Championship courses on the rota. We have staged two of the best Open Championships in recent memory in our country–the Tom Watson story, albeit without the fairytale ending in 2009 and the epic Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon in 2016. Between them, we’ve hosted a successful Ryder Cup and despite all the buzz around these events, our participation levels haven’t dramatically risen.

That’s the first step–getting more people, primarily juniors, started in the game. Golf is the most frustrating game in the world. Can you imagine trying to start playing now, as an adult? How much more frustrated you would be if you were picking up a club for the first time? The vast majority of people, myself included, would give up not long after starting. As a kid you don’t. It’s enjoyable, you’re more patient and you’re playing with kids of similar ages and skill sets. By the time that youngster develops into a teenager or a young adult, they know the basics, they can understand the game and all its quirks, and they can get round the course with their friends. Simple when you put it like that. How does it work in practice?

Every child in primary school should have free access to golf. It’s that easy. We invented a game which has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, why can’t we find ways to encourage our own to have the chance to play? Why are we not immensely proud of what we have given to the world? And why as a nation are we not embarrassed about our lack of success at the top in recent times?

According to the Scottish Government, there are 2,056 primary schools in the country, teaching 377,382 kids. Every single one of them should have the chance to play. Many will simply not like it–that’s not surprising, but as the saying goes, you won’t know until you try it. So if even one percent of them continue in the game, that’s nearly 4,000 extra participants. It can be included as part of the curriculum, used as an after school or holiday club negating or at least reducing the childcare commitments and at the very least it keeps kids active–aren’t we always hearing about our obesity and health problems? As they progress, secondary school golf can become a fixture the way soccer or rugby are, local and national competitions can become the norm as it is in other countries. Why can’t we even go even further and include university courses within the golf industry, the way Burnley Football Club are doing within the soccer industry. After all, there is more to golf than teeing it up.

Practically, it needs buy in from the key bodies. Scottish Golf are and should be key. They have appointed a new CEO this year in Andrew McKinlay. Unfortunately their achievements have been tarnished due to previous appointments, and Andrew’s past in the Scottish Football Association will not do much to raise optimism with the average Scottish golf enthusiast. While not trying to decry the new man before he’s finished his first year in office, appointing another executive, rather than someone with imagination and innovation seems counterproductive to the goals we should look to achieve.

There must be enough “executives” within the organization (and generally across the golfing industry in all national programs) to cover executive roles and allow the opportunity for someone younger with fresh, achievable goals in driving forward ideas from the golfing majority which benefit the golfing majority–not the elite level few. Regardless who that person is, engagement should be sought with the Local and National Government on how to best promote it. Local governments should be included to represent their schools, as should great programmes such as Clubgolf who do so much good work with youngsters in Scotland.

A prevalent media marketing campaign wouldn’t go a miss either, perhaps some endorsements and appraisals from the countries golfing legends would help make some noise. At least engage those professionals who’ve risen to the top of the game and seek advice on how to begin addressing the issue. Colin Montgomery and Paul Lawrie in particular have raised this exact issue recently in the media. These guys have traveled the world, competed against and beaten the best of the best and have seen how developing markets, particularly in Asia, are growing the game. It would be foolish not to tap into their experiences.

As with everything, it comes down to who pays the bills. Supply of equipment and facilities would be the main issue. UK Sport is committed to spending £340 million plus ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo. This includes £10 million for Taekwondo, £15 million for equestrian and £84 million on rowing, sailing and canoeing combined – can anyone name more than two participants in each discipline? If Team GB comes back with a similar medal haul (67) than those won in Rio–which included Justin Rose’s golfing gold–that works out as around £5 million per medal. Staggering. Add in the £30m for this years’ Winter Olympics where Team GB won five medals: £6m per medal. What’s the legacy for the outlay here? There aren’t thousands lining up around the local swimming pools or the nearest ski slope.

London 2012 is enough evidence that the effect is short term and for the elite few. This money is earmarked for Olympic sports, that’s fine, but surely a discussion should be had with how this pot of money, dedicated for sport in the whole of the UK, is better spent amongst those who’ve helped raise it? Scottish Government spending on sport this year is increasing to £30m–or to put it into perspective, the equivalent of an Olympic rowing budget. Increased participation and being active should be the key goals in all sport funded schemes, not paying for a handful of elite athletes to bring home a couple of medals.

Taxes imposed on manufacturers selling products on these shores could be ring-fenced to return to the grass roots of the game, and advertising is always a way of adding revenue to the pot. Local and national club makers could be approached to look at ways to introduce to this gap in the market–it can’t hurt these small businesses get a foothold in a market that they will never conquer against the major brands. And it can’t hurt the major brands to be involved in promoting and sponsoring these schemes – it’s small potato for the biggest brands in the world. Think of the visitors alone who flock to Scotland to play and the advertising for these brands would more than pay for any outlay to provide equipment for juniors. Sponsorship of the scheme from a number of sources can be investigated. There are huge companies all over the country sponsoring events and individuals. Approach some of these to see if they wish to be involved in a national scheme – the worst they can say is no. And think how many sets of clubs are lying around the country in garages, closets, lockers and the like: a donation scheme could be investigated.

The benefits are endless. Fitter, more engaged pupils–this goes someway to addressing the health problem we keep hearing of in this country. Kids from a more deprived background have an opportunity to play a game they may never have had previously. And lifelong friendships are formed on the course. It can even be argued that discipline and focus for some children that golf provides is exactly the outlet they need. Additional jobs will be created as a result. Teachers, greenskeepers, course marshals, catering staff–that’s just the start. Approach teaching pros or assistant pros looking to gain some teaching experience–these pupils may be their future. Driving ranges and municipal courses up and down the country are quiet for large periods of the day–make them available for school use, even just for a few hours and you may just have increased your future customer base. It’s not like many of the council run courses (or even private clubs) are thriving at the minute so what is there to lose? Clever marketing, which has started in a few courses, increases interest–free adult with a child, two season tickets for the price of one, there’s plenty that can be done. Again, this isn’t a scheme that can be limited to Scotland–participation around the vast majority of the world needs addressed.

And for children wishing to progress beyond the school programs: give them incentives to make it affordable. If we don’t, some of the good work this scheme could bring will be undone, and these kids will be lost to the game forever. There is a real opportunity here to make a difference, and while all the answers aren’t immediately available, the right people with right attitude will soon come up with them. What a legacy that could be to our game.

We are already at a watershed moment for Scottish golf, with decreasing numbers, clubs closing or fighting for their existence, and elite level Scottish golfers at a premium. Where will be in another 10 years time? Other countries, are thriving off the back of our game; it’s time we at least tried catch up–before it’s forgotten where golf came from.

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Coop

    Nov 13, 2018 at 10:13 am

    A good article Stuart. However, the decline has little to do with either accessibility or cost. Scotland has plenty of courses (probably too many) and all but a few are welcoming to juniors – more so than ever. Many clubs offer memberships at very low rates (less than £100 a year) and many are even offering free junior membership (and often free coaching too). There are many reasons why kids aren’t playing golf in the numbers they once did, but Scotland remains one of the cheapest places to play the game.

  2. Dave C.

    Nov 13, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Golf is a game you either love it or not.

    Children are more into computers, social media, stuff that provides instant gratification, so are adults.

    There will always be golf. Just not the related industries feeding off it.

  3. Coop

    Nov 13, 2018 at 2:48 am

    Stewart, a very good and thoughtful article. The decline of the game in the home of golf is very sad, however, it has little to do with cost or accessibility. Few if any country in the world has as many golf courses per head of population and clubs that juniors can join for little (and often zero) cost. On top of that many club will subsidise or even offer free tuition. Generally, clubs are desperate to attract new young golfers but, for all sorts of reasons, it’s a struggle to do so.

  4. CaoNiMa

    Nov 13, 2018 at 2:08 am

    So, you were in Florida, were you? Enjoying the sunshine and warm weather? And thought golf is great. Wow what a surprise. And you wonder why Scotland is the toilet you always thought it was when it pours and is grey and cold for 300 days of the year. Duh

  5. Johnny Penso

    Nov 12, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Never thought I’d see the day someone would be advocating for bringing socialism to golf.

  6. Scott Ivlow

    Nov 12, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    It sounds like Scotland is in need of the First Tee Programs. Maybe that is why. If The First Tee had a program in every Elementary School. That would be a start. Even in the States it cost $3250 for every school to get started.
    As for the weather in Scotland I can see why kids don’t want play Golf. I hate being in rain so I agree about the weather. Why would any kid want to play golf in the cold and and rain if they don’t have to? The average temperature in Scotland is less than 67°year round including the windy days and having a kid hacking a golf balls around a course for a couple of hours doesn’t seem like much fun on link style golf courses.
    This leads to another problem Scotland prides itself in links golf courses but really there needs a number of Par 3 courses there to. Look at America a Par 3 course is a very good way to get youth in into golf because they don’t have to worry about being in the way of adults or intimidated by long courses. Even in America we have Executive 9 hole courses that makes it easier for kids and adults to play golf. Also in America there are many golf courses where you can play 18 holes under $50.
    I take issue that adults can’t learn the game of golf. With many golf instruction videos it’s easier to learn to fix a golf swing than it was years ago. Also adults have jobs so it’s hard for many that careers and family to devote the time it takes to practice at golf range. I hate the Florida heat and humidity so how really wants to spend hours practicing in it. I took up Golf in 2011 at the age 43 I dispute that adults can’t learn the game as fast kids. Also Topgolf is also getting adults into the sport faster than a pubic golf course. Including beginners who never swung a golf club. So maybe in a few years Topgolf will grow in the UK.

    • Scheiss

      Nov 12, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      Topgolf isn’t bringing more people to the game. It’s bringing more drinkers and bowling hacker types, the movie goer types who enjoy guzzling jugs of beer and eat masses of chicken wings while they hack a few hits out to the range that is so wide and without real penalty scoring other than not getting point when hitting certain targets as opposed to the other way around of trying to score as low as possible.
      Then they get out to a real golf course and realise they have to walk a little, be in the sun or inclement weather, can’t have their jugs of beer nor chicken wings, and see how narrow the courses are with hazards and see that it’s really penalising when their hacker swings that work 1 in 10 that they thought is good to move the ball forward in a giant range and not sideways is enough, they just quit the game and go back to TopGolf and stay fixed in the bays guzzling more beer like it’s their happy hour.

    • Wr

      Nov 12, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      Topgolf isn’t bringing more people to the game. It’s bringing more drinkers and bowling hacker types, the movie goer types who enjoy guzzling jugs of beer and eat masses of chicken wings while they hack a few hits out to the range that is so wide and without real penalty scoring other than not getting point when hitting certain targets as opposed to the other way around of trying to score as low as possible.
      Then they get out to a real golf course and realise they have to walk a little, be in the sun or inclement weather, can’t have their jugs of beer nor chicken wings, and see how narrow the courses are with hazards and see that it’s really penalising when their hacker swings that work 1 in 10 that they thought is good to move the ball forward in a giant range and not sideways is enough, they just quit the game and go back to TopGolf and stay fixed in the bays guzzling more beer like it’s their happy hour.

    • Scheiss

      Nov 13, 2018 at 2:03 am

      Topgolf isn’t bringing more people to the game. It’s bringing more drinkers and bowling hacker types, the darts playing pool playing types who enjoy guzzling jugs of beer and eat masses of chicken wings while they hack a few hits out to the range that is so wide and without real penalty scoring other than not getting points when missing certain targets as opposed to the other way around of trying to score as low as possible.
      Then they get out to a real golf course and realise they have to walk a little, be in the sun or inclement weather, can’t have their jugs of beer nor chicken wings, and see how narrow the courses are with hazards and see that it’s really penalising when their hacker swings that work 1 in 10 that they thought is good to move the ball forward in a giant range and not sideways is enough, they also don’t want the hassle of raking bunkers or ballmarks nor fill in divots, so they just quit the game and go back to TopGolf and stay fixed in the bays guzzling more beer like it’s their happy hour.

  7. mike

    Nov 12, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    We suffer the same problems here in the USA. There are so many other media distractions that it is difficult for golf to attract players. Now we have top golf centers which seem to emphasize food and drink over golfing at a very expensive price point which in turn leaves you with little disposable income for playing golf. I though do believe that the key to making the game survive is through the golf powers showing golf courses that they need to bring juniors to the game through free golf and free instruction by professionals. They are our future customers, but they need good instruction so as to enjoy the game. Golf courses, and it has fallen on deaf ears at many courses, should work towards attracting more women and beginners with series of free lessons again by professionals. In my area I see little advertising for these class of golfers. I also see high green fees especially during the weekdays as a major deterrent. The new dynamic tee time model is also a big turnoff to everyone. Why should you pay higher price for a item on Tuesday versus Friday. The cost to the seller is the same. The courses are only gouging consumers. The same issue occurs with visitors to vacation areas where visitors pay more than locals. I don’t understand why I can spend $100s or $1000 to visit your area and then you want to charge me even more for golf. We do not play any courses which use dynamic or price inflation for visitors.

  8. Joseph Greenberg

    Nov 12, 2018 at 11:02 am

    having been fortunate to spend a fortnight in St
    Andrews this summer and having been in the golf industry this last decade, i humbly offer this:
    1) St. Andrews Academy should be modeled across Scotland’s clubs. Free range balls are a modest, minimal cost start.
    2) The Academy gratefully accepted my set of clubs.
    More should donate unused, moderately valued equipment
    3) the margins for golf equipment in the UK are so high that a tithe/assessment from distributors to youth golf initiatives are a reasonable and wise cost of business
    4) The St. Andrews Links Trust system of concession points makes golf exceedingly affordable, especially on the Strathyrum and Eden courses. Juniors should be able to pay these rates at their town’s clubs, if not less.
    5) Juniors only windows for play after school hours
    6) R&A works with Augusta National to spread its wildly successful Drive/Chip/Putt events (a recent visit to TPC Sawgrass saw hundreds of kids both participating and having fun). Scottish championship could be the at 1st tee/Himalayas of the Old Course

  9. Greg V

    Nov 12, 2018 at 9:05 am

    You forgot to mention the success that Scotswoman Catriona Matthew has had.

  10. Scheiss

    Nov 12, 2018 at 1:47 am

    https://www.standrews.com/play/green-fees

    Um, those prices during the winter are ridiculous for the Old Course. In fact, it’s ridiculous during the summer, even. No wonder the kids don’t want to play, they get no discounts. Those prices should be half that for the adults and quarter that for the kids.

    • Doesnotno

      Nov 12, 2018 at 8:33 am

      Locals get a discount, but even if they didn’t, the Old Course is a special case – the Links Trust may well be justified in charging a premium /tourist surcharge for playing such an in-demand course, and using at least part of the proceeds to subsidise golf for juniors and locals on the other 6 courses they run in the area. There are also plenty of courses in St Andrews and the surrounding areas not associated with the trust.

      I’d worry less about getting new or young golfers onto the Old Course and more about charging people wanting to play the Old Course a premium that I could pump into the facilities and other courses to encourage the new golfers to play and keep playing.

      The practice and coaching facilities at St Andrews, and soon to be at Carnoustie, are fantastic, and you’d never struggle to get out on a course. It’s not Old Course prices that’s stopping youngsters from taking the game up or persevering with it.

  11. JThunder

    Nov 12, 2018 at 1:04 am

    How about this for an article:
    “The endangered state of positive headlines in golf” … or even “The endangered state of positive headlines in media”?

    Do you ever consider that, with a headline which essentially says “no one in Scotland is playing golf anymore” (which would be a pretty typical blog headline), maybe you’re actually telling people they *shouldn’t* be playing golf? Don’t most people follow trends rather than set them?

    Do headlines like this ever encourage change?

    Consider looking for something positive happening – somewhere – in Scottish golf, and report on that. If there isn’t anything, then use .wrx’s clout to start something – get sponsors involved.

    • Stuart

      Nov 12, 2018 at 8:23 am

      JThunder,

      With regards to your last comment, I’d love to get something started and I’ve a couple of draft proposals sitting ready to go. It’s something that’s important to me, and even from my own starting point in the game 25 years ago, participation has diminished at at alarming rate. Follow the trend and performance at the elite level is falling way behind where we were in the 80’s and 90’s and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

      It’s staggering that as a nation that invented the game, and continues to draws visitors from around the world to play, that some of the kids born in this country will never touch a golf club – that can’t be right.

      As for the headline, I’m sure you know how editing works 😉

      Thanks,

  12. duffer987

    Nov 11, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Nice change of pace article. Few points:

    “25 years ago there was waiting lists and huge joining fees. Not now. You can pretty much join up anywhere with little or no joining fee.”

    Can you point to some independent studies which back up this claim?

    “Can you imagine the outcry if the United States stopped producing football players, the Canadians gave up on their ice hockey, or heaven forbid, the All Blacks became an also ran in the Rugby world? So why do we accept it?”

    Individual sports and team sports are not the same thing.

    “Can you imagine trying to start playing now, as an adult? ”

    Actually, doesn’t that occur quite often? I’d assume the 25+ category of new joiners would be something to focus on, no?

    “The vast majority of people, myself included, would give up not long after starting. As a kid you don’t. It’s enjoyable, you’re more patient and you’re playing with kids of similar ages and skill sets.”

    Can you point to some evidence that you trying to equate “myself” with “vast majority” as being a valid equation. Kids are more patient than adults?

    “Every child in primary school should have free access to golf. It’s that easy.”

    That’s not easy.

    “While not trying to decry the new man…”

    But you go ahead and do exactly that.

    “UK Sport is…”

    Total red herring. I’m sure you know the remit of UK Sport. If not you should read it. Why zero mention of Sport Scotland? The actual grass roots organization that should surely be the initial target of getting any governmental assistance.

  13. Begbie

    Nov 11, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Well, if you can change the weather in Scotland, you’d have more players lmao

  14. Andrue

    Nov 11, 2018 at 10:57 am

    “Can you imagine trying to start playing now, as an adult?”

    Um, yes. I took up golf 8 years ago aged 42. I love it. Most people I’ve met took up golf as adults. Okay so I’m not a professional and will only ever be a keen amateur but if you think golf should only be taken up by children I think you’re missing a significant demographic.

    Unlike a child I have quite a decent disposable income 😉

    • Stuart

      Nov 12, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Andrue,

      That’s great. Golf should absolutely be inclusive and anyone of any age should be able to take it up. I’d like kids in Scotland to get the opportunity to play for free at school – you’re right, they don’t have disposable income and some will never get the opportunity to play as a result.

      The main point of the article was to highlight the lack of participation (or decline in participation) at young age groups in Scotland, which I believe is now having an effect in the professional game. Not many adults who take up the game will go on to forge successful pro careers – it’s just the way it goes unfortunately.

  15. Steve

    Nov 11, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Any kid under 10 should play for free if golf has any chance of growing. Then again, I took my kids to the schoolyard to hit around this weekend and they had a blast without some ranger getting on their case.

    • Simms

      Nov 12, 2018 at 5:42 pm

      Need some truth about those first tee programs…I mean the average public first tee, not the uppity Country Club kids first tee..Kids 10 to 16, free range balls, free instruction, even some free rounds…kid turns 16 or so, goes to the driving range $12 for a bucket of balls, or $40 for 18 without a cart..last time you see that kid….besides teaching kids about golf need to make sure they understand it does cost a good deal to practice and play.

  16. Mike

    Nov 11, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Sad commentary but unfortunately all sports at the school age level are competing against a rising addiction to social media and video games.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 PGA Championship betting preview: Rising star ready to join the immortals at Valhalla

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The second major of the 2024 season is upon us as the world’s best players will tee it up this week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky to compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.

The last time we saw Valhalla host a major championship, Rory McIlroy fended off Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and the creeping darkness that was descending upon the golf course. The Northern Irishman had the golf world in the palm of his hand, joining only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as players who’d won four major championships by the time they were 25 years old. 

Valhalla is named after the great hall described in Norse mythology where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The course is a Jack Nicklaus-design that has ranked among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” for three decades. 

Valhalla Golf Club is a par-71 measuring 7,542 yards with Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens. The course has rolling hills and dangerous streams scattered throughout and the signature 13th hole is picturesque with limestone and unique bunkering protecting the green. The 2024 PGA Championship will mark the fourth time Valhalla has hosted the event. 

The field this week will consist of 156 players, including 16 PGA Champions and 33 Major Champions. 

Past Winners of the PGA Championship

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-9) Oak Hill
  • 2022: Justin Thomas (-5) Southern Hills
  • 2021: Phil Mickelson (-6) Kiawah Island
  • 2020: Collin Morikawa (-13) TPC Harding Park
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-8) Bethpage Black
  • 2018: Brooks Koepka (-16) Bellerive
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) Quail Hollow
  • 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14) Baltusrol
  • 2015: Jason Day (-20) Whistling Straits
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-16) Valhalla

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Valhalla

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Oak Hill to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Valhalla will play as a true all-around test of golf for the world’s best. Of course, it will take strong approach play to win a major championship.

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Shane Lowry (+1.25)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  3. Jordan Smith (+1.05)
  4. Tom Hoge (+.96)
  5. Corey Conners (+.94)

2. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Valhalla will play long and the rough will be penal. Players who are incredibly short off the tee and/or have a hard time hitting fairways will be all but eliminated from contention this week at the PGA Championship. 

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.47)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  3. Keith Mitchell (+.90)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+.89)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+.82)

Strokes Gained: Total on Nickalus Designs

Valhalla is a classic Nicklaus Design. Players who play well at Nicklaus designs should have an advantage coming into this major championship. 

Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+2.56)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+2.35)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.79)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green on Very Long Courses

Valhalla is going to play extremely long this week. Players who have had success playing very long golf courses should be better equipped to handle the conditions of this major championship.

Strokes Gained: Total on Very Long Courses Over Past 24 Rounds: 

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.44)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+2.24)
  3. Will Zalatoris (+1.78)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+1.69)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+1.60)

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships

One factor that tends to play a large role in deciding major championships is which players have played well in previous majors leading up to the event. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships over past 20 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.14)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+2.64)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+2.49)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+2.48)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (2.09)

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens

Valhalla features pure Bentgrass putting surfaces. Players who are comfortable putting on this surface will have an advantage on the greens. 

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+1.12)
  2. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  3. Matt Fitzpatrick (+0.99)
  4. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  5. J.T. Poston (0.87)

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways

Valhalla features Zoysia fairways. Players who are comfortable playing on this surface will have an advantage on the field.

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways over past 36 rounds: 

  1. Justin Thomas (+1.53)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+1.47)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.40)
  4. Brooks Koepka (+1.35)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+1.23)

2024 PGA Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (25%), SG: Off the Tee (22%), SG: T2G on Very Long Courses (12%), SG: Putting on Bentgrass (+12%), SG: Total on Nicklaus Designs (12%). SG: Total on Zoysia Fairways (8%), and SG: Total in Major Championships (8%). 

  1. Brooks Koepka
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Scottie Scheffler
  5. Bryson DeChambeau
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Alex Noren
  8. Will Zalatoris
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Keith Mitchell
  11. Hideki Matsuyama
  12. Billy Horschel
  13. Patrick Cantlay
  14. Viktor Hovland
  15. Adam Schenk
  16. Chris Kirk
  17. Sahith Theegala
  18. Min Woo Lee
  19. Joaquin Niemann
  20. Justin Thomas

2024 PGA Championship Picks

Ludvig Aberg +1800 (BetMGM)

At The Masters, Ludvig Aberg announced to the golf world that he’s no longer an “up and coming” player. He’s one of the best players in the game of golf, regardless of experience.

Augusta National gave Aberg some necessary scar tissue and showed him what being in contention at a major championship felt like down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, he made a costly mistake, hitting it in the water left of the 11th hole, but showed his resilience by immediately bouncing back. He went on to birdie two of his next three holes and finished in solo second by three shots. With the type of demeanor that remains cool in pressure situations, I believe Ludvig has the right mental game to win a major at this point in his career.

Aberg has not finished outside of the top-25 in his past eight starts, which includes two runner-up finishes at both a “Signature Event” and a major championship. The 24-year-old is absolutely dominant with his driver, which will give him a major advantage this week. In the field he ranks, in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and has gained strokes in the category in each of his past ten starts. Aberg is already one of the best drivers of the golf ball on the planet.

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The Swedes, who are of Old Norse origin, were the last of the three Scandinavian Kingdoms to abandon the Old Norse Gods. A Swede played a major role in the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and I believe another, Ludvig Aberg, will be the one to conquer Valhalla in 2024. 

Bryson DeChambeau +2800 (BetMGM)

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the few players in the world that I believe has the game to go blow-for-blow with Scottie Scheffler. Although he isn’t as consistent as Scheffler, when he’s at his best, Bryson has the talent to beat him.

At The Masters, DeChambeau put forth a valiant effort at a golf course that simply does not suit his game. Valhalla, on the other hand, is a course that should be perfect for the 30-year-old. His ability to overpower a golf course with his driver will be a serious weapon this week.

Bryson has had some success at Jack Nicklaus designs throughout his career as he won the Memorial at Muirfield Village back in 2018. He’s also had incredible results on Bentgrass greens for the entirety of his professional career. Of his 10 wins, nine of them have come on Bentgrass greens, with the only exception being the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He also has second place finishes at Medinah and TPC Summerlin, which feature Bentgrass greens.

Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to argue that Bryson isn’t one of the most exciting and important players in the game of golf. He’s also one of the best players in the world. A second major is coming soon for DeChambeau, and I believe he should be amongst the favorites to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy this week.

Patrick Cantlay +4000 (FanDuel)

There’s no way of getting around it: Patrick Cantlay has been dissapointing in major championships throughout his professional career. He’s been one of the top players on Tour for a handful of years and has yet to truly contend at a major championship, with the arguable exception of the 2019 Masters.

Despite not winning majors, Cantlay has won some big events. The 32-year-old has won two BMW Championships, two Memorial Tournaments as well as a Tour Championship. His victories at Memorial indicate how much Cantlay loves Nicklaus designs, where he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds behind only Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm.

Cantlay also loves Bentgrass greens. Six of Cantlay’s seven individual wins on the PGA Tour have come on Bentgrass greens and he also was one of the best putters at the 2023 Ryder cup at Marco Simone (also Bentgrass). At Caves Valley (2021 BMW Championship), he gained over 12 strokes putting to outduel another Bentgrass specialist, Bryson DeChambeau.

Cantlay finished 22nd in The Masters, which was a solid result considering how many elite players struggled that week. He also has two top-ten finishes in his past five PGA Championships. He’s undeniably one of the best players in the field, therefore, it comes down to believing Cantlay has the mental fortitude to win a major, which I do.

Joaquin Niemann +4000 (BetMGM)

I believe Joaquin Niemann is one of the best players in the world. He has three worldwide wins since December and has continued to improve over the course of his impressive career thus far. Still only 25, the Chilean has all the tools to be a serious contender in major championships for years to come.

Niemann has been the best player on LIV this season. Plenty will argue with the format or source of the money on LIV, but no one can argue that beating players such as Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith is an unremarkable achievement. Niemann is an elite driver of the golf ball who hits it farther than just about anyone in the field not named Bryson DeChambeau or (arguably) Rory McIlroy.

Niemann is another player who has been fantastic throughout his career on Bentgrass greens. Prior to leaving the PGA Tour, Bentgrass was the only green surface in which Joaco was a positive putter. It’s clearly a surface that he is very comfortable putting on and should fare around and on the greens this week.

Niemann is a perfect fit for Valhalla. His low and penetrating ball flight will get him plenty of runout this week on the fairways and he should have shorter shots into the green complexes than his competitors. To this point in his career, the former top ranked amateur in the world (2018) has been underwhelming in major championships, but I don’t believe that will last much longer. Joaquin Niemann is a major championship caliber player and has a real chance to contend this week at Valhalla.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work? Part 2

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In my last post, I explained the basic performance dynamics of “smash factor” and “gear effect” as they apply to your wedges and your wedge play success. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

At the end of that post, I promised “part 2” of this discussion of what makes a wedge work the way it does. So, let’s dive into the other two components of any wedge – the shaft and the grip.

It’s long been said that the shaft is “the engine of the golf club.” The shaft (and grip) are your only connection to all the technologies that are packed into the head of any golf club, whether it be a driver, fairway, hybrid, iron, wedge or even putter.

And you cannot ignore those two components of your wedges if your goal is optimizing your performance.

I’ve long been an advocate of what I call a “seamless transition” from your irons into your wedges, so that the feel and performance do not disconnect when you choose a gap wedge, for example, instead of your iron-set-matching “P-club.” In today’s golf equipment marketplace, more and more golfers are making the investment of time and money to experience an iron fitting, going through trial and error and launch monitor measuring to get just the right shaft in their irons.

But then so many of those same golfers just go into a store and choose wedges off the retail display, with no similar science involved at all. And that’s why I see so many golfers with a huge disconnect between their custom-fitted irons, often with lighter and/or softer graphite or light steel shafts . . . and their off-the-rack wedges with the stock stiff steel ‘wedge flex’ shaft common to those stock offerings.

If your wedge shafts are significantly heavier and stiffer than the shafts in your irons, it is physically impossible for you to make the same swing. Period.

To quickly improve your wedge play, one of the first things you can do is have your wedges re-shafted with the same or similar shaft that is in your irons.

There’s another side of that shaft weight equation; if you don’t have the forearm and hand strength of a PGA Tour professional, you simply cannot “handle” the same weight shaft that those guys play to master the myriad of ‘touch shots’ around the greens.

Now, let’s move on to the third and other key component of your wedges – the grips. If those are not similar in shape and feel to the grips on your irons, you have another disconnect. Have your grips checked by a qualified golf club professionals to make sure you are in sync there.

The one caveat to that advice is that I am a proponent of a reduced taper in your wedge grips – putting two to four more layers of tape under the lower hand, or selecting one of the many reduced taper grips on the market. That accomplishes two goals for your scoring.

First, it helps reduce overactive hands in your full and near-full wedge swings. Quiet hands are key to good wedge shots.

And secondly, it provides a more consistent feel of the wedge in your hands as you grip down for those shorter and more delicate shots around the greens. And you should always grip down as you get into those touch shots. I call it “getting closer to your work.”

So, if you will spend as much time selecting the shafts and grips for your wedges as you do choosing the brand, model, and loft of them, your scoring range performance will get better.

More from the Wedge Guy

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Wells Fargo Championship betting preview: Tommy Fleetwood ready to finally land maiden PGA Tour title

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The PGA Tour season ramps back up this week for another “signature event,” as golf fans look forward to the year’s second major championship next week.

After two weaker-field events in the Zurich Classic and the CJ Cup Byron Nelson, most of the best players in the world will head to historic Quail Hollow for one of the best non-major tournaments of the year. 

Last season, Wyndham Clark won the event by four shots.

Quail Hollow is a par-71 measuring 7,521 yards that features Bermudagrass greens. The tree-lined, parkland style course can play quite difficult and features one of the most difficult three-hole stretches in golf known as “The Green Mile,” which makes up holes 16-18: two mammoth par 4s and a 221-yard par 3. All three holes have an average score over par, and water is in play in each of the last five holes on the course.

The field is excellent this week with 68 golfers teeing it up without a cut. All of the golfers who’ve qualified are set to tee it up, with the exception of Scottie Scheffler, who is expecting the birth of his first child. 

Past Winners at Quail Hollow

  • 2023: Wyndham Clark (-19)
  • 2022: Max Homa (-8)
  • 2021: Rory McIlroy (-10)
  • 2019: Max Homa (-15)
  • 2018: Jason Day (-12)
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) (PGA Championship)
  • 2016: James Hahn (-9)
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy (-21)

Key Stats For Quail Hollow

Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes gained: Approach will be extremely important this week as second shots at Quail Hollow can be very difficult. 

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Akshay Bhatia (+1.16)
  2. Tom Hoge (+1.12)
  3. Corey Conners (+1.01)
  4. Shane Lowry (+0.93)
  5. Austin Eckroat (+0.82)

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Quail Hollow is a long course on which it is important to play from the fairway. Both distance and accuracy are important, as shorter tee shots will result in approach shots from 200 or more yards. With most of the holes heavily tree lined, errant drives will create some real trouble for the players.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+0.73)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+0.69)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+0.62)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+0.58)
  5. Chris Kirk (+0.52)

Proximity: 175-200

The 175-200 range is key at Quail Hollow. Players who can hit their long irons well will rise to the top of the leaderboard. 

Proximity: 175-200+ over past 24 rounds:

  1. Cameron Young (28’2″)
  2. Akshay Bhatia (29’6″)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+30’6″)
  4. Sam Burns (+30’6″)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+30’9″)

SG: Total on Tom Fazio Designs

Players who thrive on Tom Fazio designs get a bump for me at Quail Hollow this week. 

SG: Total on Tom Fazio Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Patrick Cantlay (+2.10)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+1.95)
  3. Tommy Fleetwood (+1.68)
  4. Austin Eckroat (+1.60)
  5. Will Zalatoris (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermudagrass)

Strokes Gained: Putting has historically graded out as the most important statistic at Quail Hollow. While it isn’t always predictable, I do want to have it in the model to bump up golfers who prefer to putt on Bermudagrass.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermudagrass) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Taylor Moore (+0.82)
  2. Nick Dunlap (+.76)
  3. Wyndham Clark (+.69)
  4. Emiliano Grillo (+.64)
  5. Cam Davis (+.61)

Course History

This stat will incorporate players that have played well in the past at Quail Hollow. 

Course History over past 36 rounds (per round):

  1. Rory McIlroy (+2.50)
  2. Justin Thomas (+1.96)
  3. Jason Day (+1.92)
  4. Rickie Fowler (+1.83)
  5. Viktor Hovland (+1.78)

Wells Fargo Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: Off the Tee (23%), SG: Total on Fazio designs (12%), Proximity: 175-200 (12%), SG: Putting Bermuda grass (12%), and Course History (14%).

  1. Wyndham Clark
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Xander Schauffele
  4. Shane Lowry
  5. Hideki Matsuyama
  6. Viktor Hovland 
  7. Cameron Young
  8. Austin Eckroat 
  9. Byeong Hun An
  10. Justin Thomas

2024 Wells Fargo Championship Picks

Tommy Fleetwood +2500 (DraftKings)

I know many out there have Tommy fatigue when it comes to betting, which is completely understandable given his lack of ability to win on the PGA Tour thus far in his career. However, history has shown us that players with Fleetwood’s talent eventually break though, and I believe for Tommy, it’s just a matter of time.

Fleetwood has been excellent on Tom Fazio designs. Over his past 36 rounds, he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on Fazio tracks. He’s also been incredibly reliable off the tee this season. He’s gained strokes in the category in eight of his past nine starts, including at The Masters, the PLAYERS and the three “signature events” of the season. Tommy is a golfer built for tougher courses and can grind it out in difficult conditions.

Last year, Fleetwood was the first-round leader at this event, firing a Thursday 65. He finished the event in a tie for 5th place.

For those worried about Fleetwood’s disappointing start his last time out at Harbour Town, he’s bounced back nicely after plenty of poor outings this season. His T7 at the Valero Texas Open was after a MC and T35 in his prior two starts and his win at the Dubai Invitational came after a T47 at the Sentry.

I expect Tommy to bounce back this week and contend at Quail Hollow.

Justin Thomas +3000 (DraftKings)

It’s been a rough couple of years for Justin Thomas, but I don’t believe things are quite as bad as they seem for JT. He got caught in the bad side of the draw at Augusta for last month’s Masters and has gained strokes on approach in seven of his nine starts in 2024. 

Thomas may have found something in his most recent start at the RBC Heritage. He finished T5 at a course that he isn’t the best fit for on paper. He also finally got the putter working and ranked 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week.

The two-time PGA champion captured the first of his two major championships at Quail Hollow back in 2017, and some good vibes from the course may be enough to get JT out of his slump.

Thomas hasn’t won an event in just about two years. However, I still believe that will change soon as he’s been one of the most prolific winners throughout his PGA Tour career. Since 2015, he has 15 PGA Tour wins.

Course history is pretty sticky at Quail Hollow, with players who like the course playing well there on a regular basis. In addition to JT’s PGA Championship win in 2017, he went 4-1 at the 2022 Presidents Cup and finished T14 at the event last year despite being in poor form. Thomas can return as one of the top players on the PGA Tour with a win at a “signature event” this week. 

Cameron Young +3500 (DraftKings)

For many golf bettors, it’s been frustrating backing Cam Young this season. His talent is undeniable, and one of the best and most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. He just hasn’t broken through with a victory yet. Quail Hollow has been a great place for elite players to get their first victory. Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark all notched their first PGA Tour win at Quail.

Throughout Cam Young’s career, he has thrived at tougher courses with strong fields. This season, he finished T16 at Riviera and T9 at Augusta National, demonstrating his preference of a tough test. His ability to hit the ball long and straight off the tee make him an ideal fit for Quail Hollow, despite playing pretty poorly his first time out in 2023 (T59). Young should be comfortable playing in the region as he played his college golf at Wake Forest, which is about an hour’s drive from Quail Hollow.

The 26-year-old has played well at Tom Fazio designs in the past and ranks 8th in the field in Strokes Gained: Total on those courses in his last 36 rounds. Perhaps most importantly, this season, Young is the best player on the PGA Tour in terms of proximity from 175-200 in the fairway, which is where a plurality and many crucial shots will come from this week.

Young is an elite talent and Quail Hollow has been kind to players of his ilk who’ve yet to win on Tour.

Byeong Hun An +5000 (FanDuel)

Byeong Hun An missed some opportunities last weekend at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson. He finished T4 and played some outstanding golf, but a couple of missed short putts prevented him from getting to the winning score of -23. Despite not getting the win, it’s hard to view An’s performance as anything other than an overwhelming success. It was An’s fourth top-ten finish of the season.

Last week, An gained 6.5 strokes ball striking, which was 7th in the field. He also ranked 12th for Strokes Gained: Approach and 13th for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. The South Korean has been hitting the ball so well from tee to green all season long and he now heads to a golf course that should reward his precision.

An’s driver and long irons are absolute weapons. At Quail Hollow, players will see plenty of approach shots from the 175-200 range as well as some from 200+. In his past 24 rounds, Ben ranks 3rd in the field in proximity from 175-200 and 12th in proximity from 200+. Playing in an event that will not end up being a “birdie” fest should help An, who can separate from the field with his strong tee to green play. The putter may not always cooperate but getting to -15 is much easier than getting to -23 for elite ball strikers who tend to struggle on the greens.

Winning a “signature event” feels like a tall task for An this week with so many elite players in the field. However, he’s finished T16 at the Genesis Invitational, T16 at The Masters and T8 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The 32-year-old’s game has improved drastically this season and I believe he’s ready to get the biggest win of his career.

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