Industry ads aimed at promoting participation have the same theme, “Play Golf Because It’s Fun.” I disagree with the presentation, but admittedly it takes explanation. Fun is considered, light, enjoyable among other adjectives. Golf hasn’t been around for centuries evoking a unique passion because it’s “fun.” It’s hard and frustrating yet we come back sometimes—even ignoring weather we wouldn’t otherwise be outside in.
Because it’s rewarding! Not on the whole, that’s reserved for the very few who are excellent players. “Rewarding” for the masses will be a well-played hole, even a singular shot. We are rewarded in small victories, not mastery.
How then do we focus on the concept of reward? The answer falls into what we call course layout and must be championed by those organizations promoting the game—the PGA of America and the USGA. I’ll proceed with some typical examples with real data, not opinion.
This is data-centric: Years ago, the former Technical Director of the USGA reported that his study revealed an average driving distance of 192 yards. Who are the 192s? The short answer is they are the overall majority of players who play and financially support the game. Their brethren are not coming on board in numbers, and pure age analysis shows that they are a declining population, albeit with a huge reservoir that is retiring and could decide to play.
They love to watch the 300-yard drives of Tour players and marvel that the average iron into greens is an 8—albeit some 170 yards. Further, these iron shots are struck consistently, high, landing with spin allowing them to shoot for targets within the confines of the green.
The 192 group doesn’t hit 170-yard 8-irons. If they make that good swing, their 8-iron goes roughly 120, and rather than a spot on the green, they are trying to get on the putting surface.
What does this have to do with rewarding? I was recently asked to analyze a course that had installed forward tees, but something was off. The overall yardage was 5,900 par 70, which seemed perfect.
However, there were six holes in various forms of what follows: yardage 354, a 192-yard drive leaves 162 and in each case, it was a forced carry of 162 yards. The 192s don’t have a high soft shot that carries 162 plus yards. They may have an occasional low bullet that doesn’t hold, but the sensible play is to lay up.
This gets old and it’s not rewarding. If their second shot on forced carry holes was, say, 125 yards they would have a chance to hit a solid shot onto the green, and that’s rewarding. We 192s aren’t good enough to hit center face solid shots every time. Give us the chance that we’ll be rewarded with a birdie putt just some of the time and the experience is one that keeps us playing (“fun,” if you will, but more accurately defined).
Further, a 370-yard par 4 with a slightly downsloping fairway into a green wide open in the front—and again we have a chance to be rewarded.
It isn’t a simple distance issue: It’s an understanding of the concept of reward and setting one set of tees accordingly. Golf courses are fairway width, firmness, elevations, hazards and the list goes on. That’s why I say the good folks who promote the game need to embrace the concept. Produce guidelines on how to make courses rewarding.
Years ago, I was very fortunate to be able to play a few rounds with Lee Trevino, arguably one of the greatest ball strikers of all times. He didn’t play “the tees” he picked the ones he wanted, some forward, some back. I asked why and he said, “Barnyard, I just want to be able to hit shots to the green. I always did.” I never forgot his comment, but I didn’t appreciate the genius behind it until I came upon the concept of rewarding golf. It’s exactly what Lee was doing!
Of course, I’m just one small voice. The PGA of America and USGA are the leaders and it’s up to them to turn the concept of rewarding golf into a movement designed to increase participation.
The 19th Hole Episode 159: Howard University coach Sam Puryear
Host Michael Williams talks with Howard U. coach about the trials and triumphs in the fledgling golf program. Also features Adam Martin of Haig Point (SC) and Eduardo Mestres of Los Siete Misterios Mezcal.
The Wedge Guy: The Red Zone
For those of you who are big football fans, we are lost in the off-season, waiting a few more months before we get to watch our favorite pro or college teams duke it out on the gridiron. Living in Texas, of course, football is a very big deal, from the NFL Cowboys and Texans, through our broad college network representing multiple conferences and into the bedrock of Friday nights – high school football, which drives fans and entire towns into a frenzy.
In almost every football conversation on TV, you hear talk about “the red zone”. How a team performs inside the 20-yard line is a real measure of their offensive prowess, and usually a pretty good indicator of their win/loss record, too. It breaks down to what percentage of the time a team scores a touchdown or field goal, and how often they come away empty.
I like to think we golfers have our own “red zone”. It’s that distance from the green where we should be able to go on the offensive and think about pars and birdies, ensure no worse than bogey . . . and rarely put a double or worse on the card. Your own particular set of red zone goals should be based on your handicap. If you are a low single digit, this is your “go zone”, where you feel like you can take it right at the flag and give yourself a decent birdie putt, with bogeys being an unpleasant surprise. For mid-handicap players, it’s where you should feel confident you’ll guarantee a par and rarely make bogey, and for higher handicap players, it’s where you will ensure a bogey at least, give yourself a good chance at par, and maybe even a birdie.
But regardless of your handicap, your own “red zone” should begin when you can put a high loft club in your hands – one with over 40 degrees of loft. Of course, that has changed a lot with the continual strengthening of irons. In my early days that was an eight iron, then it migrated to a nine. But regardless of your handicap or the make and model of irons you play, my contention is that golf is relatively “defensive” with all the other clubs in your bag. With those lower lofted irons, your goal should be to just keep it out of trouble and moving closer to the goal line . . . er, the flag. Even the PGA Tour pros make a very small percentage of their birdies with their middle irons.
When you can put a high loft club in your bag – whether that’s from 150 yards or 105 – that’s when you should feel like you can put your offense into high gear and raise your expectations. It’s no longer about power, because this isn’t about raw distance, but rather distance control and precision. From the red zone, it’s about trusting your technique and your equipment and taking it to the golf course a little bit.
As most of us are in the early stages of the 2021 golf season, one of the best things you can do for your golf improvement is to begin tracking your “red zone” performance. Put the numbers down as to how you are scoring the golf course from your 9-iron range on into the flag. My guess is that you’ll see this is where you can make the most improvement if you’ll give that part of your game some additional time and focus. Any golfer can learn to hit crisp and accurate short range approach shots. And so you should.
Pay attention to your own red zone stats, and work to improve them. I guarantee you that you’ll see your scores come down quickly.
Club Junkie: Reviewing Titleist TSi3 drivers and fairways! (Finally!)
The moment you all have been waiting for: I finally have a TSi3 driver and 3-wood in my hands! Talking about how they performed and maybe some shaft changes for each in the future.
‘Shut it!’ – Paul Casey puts disrespectful spectator in his place
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Ian Poulter WITB 2021 (March)
Dustin Johnson unveils Champions Dinner menu (and it’s not sandwiches)
Scottie Scheffler WITB 2021 (March)
Peter Malnati WITB 2021 (May)
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