PGA Show 2018 – Progress and Promise

Annually the golf industry gathers in Orlando for what some call the “Disney World for golf nuts,” a.k.a. the PGA Merchandise Show, truly the “Major of the Golf Business.”

Many golfers would jump at the chance to attend (who doesn’t like Disney World?) and yet don’t realize the Show has a serious purpose much less the scale of the industry, indeed its importance. In the U.S. golf has a $70 billion in economic impact, effects almost 2 million jobs and contributes more than $4 billion to charities each year. While there is certainly a “fun” aspect to the PGA Show it is above all a gathering of business people who understand the importance of education, networking and deal making.

PGA and LPGA Professionals, retail buyers and credentialed industry members attend to see and be seen while investigating thousands of products and services on display by the 1,000 vendors exhibiting in the 1 million square feet of the Orange County Convention Center.

Show week began on Tuesday January 23 with the world largest Demo Day comprised of 100 companies and 200 hitting bays spread around the 360-degree practice range of the Orange County National Golf Center. Day two saw opening of the exhibition on the Convention Center floor for the 40,000 plus attendees who took on the task of walking the almost 10 miles of aisles. They chipped and putted on artificial greens and hit the latest clubs in the 50-bay indoor Equipment Testing Center which was busy each day through close of the Show on Friday.

In addition to all the golf orientated apparel, accessories, equipment, products and services the Show is a “major” for club professionals’ continuing education. Scheduled over the four days were 109 classes with topics that ran the gamut from teaching the teachers (“Pelvic Powerhouse-Considerations of the Pelvis in the Modern Day Golf Swing”) to pro shop operations (“Mark Down and Clearance Planning”). There were presentations, meet-and-greets and panel discussions with celebrities such as Blair O’Neal, Karrie Webb, Adam Scott, Dave Stockton, John Daly, Greg Norman, David Ledbetter and Hank Haney.

The Show always is an excellent opportunity to get a “sense” for what industry insiders think of the immediate future and much can be learned by simply asking PGA and LPGA Professionals on the floor a couple of questions. “How was your business last year?” “What do you see for 2018 at your course?”

Unscientific admittedly, and probably biased since those spending the money for travel, hotel and meals are likely to be those whose shops are doing fairly well…probably turning a profit. Shops not in that category are less likely to attend.

Several of those queried said they were looking for increases in the number of rounds played and pro shop sales and almost everyone spoke of specific programs to attract more players. One private club professional said several thousand dollars was being spent to bring in new members. Programs to involve women such as nine-and-wine were often described, and many are starting or expanding group instruction sessions for juniors, women and seniors.

Technology was a common theme as pros talked about how they could take players away from competing facilities and increase soft goods sales in their own shops. Also, often mentioned were more efficient ways to manage their tee sheets and getting a grasp of the latest club technology to better fit golfers with clubs.

Asking similar questions of vendor personnel manning the exhibition booths got answers ranging from “last year was pretty good and this year looks the same” to “sales were up 15% in 2017 and we expect 15% in 2018.”

Neither manufacturers nor attendees responded with doom and gloom and certainly there were none of the negative responses heard just a few years ago.

Equipment companies, especially Acushnet and Callaway Golf which are publicly-traded, are under pressure to grow sales. However, since the equipment “pie” is not growing due to the number of golfers at best being stagnate they must differentiate their products with advancements in materials and proprietary technology. The current market will not support even incremental price increases, so two strategies have emerged to expand sales opportunities.

One, in addition to “regular-priced” clubs, is to go “up market” with higher priced models such as Callaway Golf did with the Epic Star driver by leveraging technology from their bestselling Epic driver. Priced at $700, the Epic Star is targeted at those with discretionary income and slower swing speeds which often translates into senior male golfers. Japanese brand Honma Golf, just now becoming known in America, has a similar plan for their top end premium quality BERES IS-06 driver series priced from $900 and $4,200.

Tour Edge Golf chose the opposite strategy with their Hot Launch 3 family. All are of the highest quality and design but sell for prices at the lower end of the spectrum. As an example, the HL3 driver is $190 or roughly one-third to one-half that of competitors. In putters Cleveland Golf, a sister brand to Srixon and XXIO best known for their wedges, took a similar tactic with the Huntington Beach series. Wonderful design and construction but selling for $100 in contrast with other company’s flat sticks at two, three and four times the price.

The success of one approach or both is an open question, but one thing is true for sure. Every company able to increase sales will be taking dollars from a competitor’s market share, not because more golfers are buying more clubs.

A summary of the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show would have to include what might be called cautious optimism from most of the attendees added to the fact real progress is being made in technology for equipment, teaching and club operations.

New Tech in the 2018 Chrome Soft

One of the pleasures that least in part compensates for having to tread the miles of aisles at each year’s PGA Merchandise Show is the opportunity to gain some insight to pass along to reader about all the new products. This year was no exception.

The people at Callaway Golf had an important announcement the week before the Show concerning the Rogue family of clubs—metalwoods, hybrids and irons—and Show week unveiled their new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls.

They revealed some interesting technology that you should know about.

The original Chrome Soft released in 2015 had a three-piece construction and very low compression which turned off better players with higher swing speeds; Callaway’s answer was the firmer Chrome Soft X. For 2018 they have redone both in a 4-piece construction and added something called graphene into the core.

For maximum distance in a ball such as the Chrome Soft with inner and outer cores, the inner should be larger than the outer which puts the outer under high stress when the ball is hit with a driver. If the outer isn’t strong enough it will crack which makes it worthless and that’s where graphene comes in. Graphene, long thought to be too expensive for golf balls, is an ultra-strong lattice of nanocarbon atoms 200 times stronger than steel but it stretches so when added to the outer core the potential cracking problem is solved.

This meant inner core could be made softer and the outer core stronger. As Callaway’s Dr. Alan Hocknell, Senior Vice President of Research and Development described it, a “crash helmet for the inner core.”

Hocknell also said, “If you think of this inner core as the engine of the golf ball, the inner of the new Chrome Soft is now bigger and softer because it is protected by the stronger outer core, which allows us to pump up the speed, pump up the spin-reducing characteristic of the soft core, and still retain the soft-feel benefits. The outer core is a firmer blend of polybutadiene rubber compared to the inner core and it is made much stronger as the nano-particles of graphene get in-between the long polymer chains and make them significantly stronger.”

Callaway describes the result as having kept the overall soft feel but changed it slightly. Players will hear a crisper sound from shots around the green and see added ball speed off the driver with “significantly” better distance from mid-irons and approach shots. Compared to the original Chrome Soft, driver spin is less without lowering the launch angle, so distance is increased.

Those with higher swing speeds, above 105 mph with the driver, should like the firmer Chrome Soft X while taking advantage of the softer feel of both the Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X. The increased firmness will result in a better conversion of driver speed to ball speed in the X than it will in the standard Chrome Soft.

The greatest advantage of playing a soft ball though might the “forgiveness,” a term usually associate with clubs, but which can be applied to golf balls as well. The softer the ball the greater the ball will compress with preservation of more ball speed when impact is not in the center of the clubface. Put simply a Chrome Soft ball goes farther compared with a harder ball even though the hit was not very good.

Finally, the urethane covers of both models have been made softer with the goal being increase spin on shots around the green. According to Hocknell even though it is softer it is actually more durable, a characteristic of urethane not true of Surlyn which is often used on so-called distance balls.

In a nutshell, players will be interested in the 2018 Chrome Soft if they want a softer feel with more forgiveness and less side-to-side curvature and the Chrome Soft X if looking for more workability. Both will be at retail on February 16 at a cost of $44.99 per dozen.  

Callaway’s Rogue Arrives

Callaway Golf had a banner season last year with the Epic club family, especially the driver, and hopes to do the same this year with the new Rogue driver and fairway woods. Like the Epic, Rogue has titanium bars (named Jailbreak technology) connecting the crown and the sole that are now hourglass shaped saving about 25% of the weight compared with those used in Epic. According to Callaway’s research the bars or rods have the effect of stiffening the club body, so energy is more efficiently transferred producing added ball speed. The second feature not to be overlooked is Rogue’s new X Face VFT variable face thickness profile which combined with the Jailbreak rods helps to preserve ball speed if impact is off center. This design also allowed mass to be moved altering the center of gravity for a better launch and added to the head’s resistance to twisting.

Compared to the Great Big Bertha, Epic and XR model drivers the face of the Rogue can be made thinner because of the improved Jailbreak rods and after doing an impact probability distribution a pattern for the thinner and thicker portions of the face was developed.

Boeing Aerospace was consulted on the crown’s Speed Step first seen on the XR driver and for the Rogue they were brought back to modify the geometry of the leading edge and head curvature for 0.6 to 0.7 mph increase in speed. The carbon composite crown is similar to the Epic driver but larger, in fact the largest Callaway has ever been able to produce. Measuring total MOI, i.e., both vertically and horizontally, the XR 16 driver had an MOI of 7,400, the Epic of last year tested at 8,000 and the Rogue a significant advancement to 8,600. Any driver over 7,000 is considered a “forgiving.” Company testing also shows the Rogue gave a 16% tighter shot dispersion.

While most of the attention, as it was last year with the Epic driver, will probably be focused on the titanium rods inside the head the Rogue’s face design is worth a bit more explanation. This X-Face with VFT has raised ridges in the shape of a large X in the middle of the inner side of the face with the thickness varying in strategic areas. The result is in addition to producing a minimum thickness overall it helps ball launch parameters and allows the areas of the crown and sole flange near the face to be thinner while still lowering energy loss from vibration.

Callaway says “X-Face with VFT technology expands the area of the clubface that delivers fast ball speed to promote more distance on off-center hits, and more consistently fast ball speed and distance overall.”

There are three Rogue models. In addition to the standard configuration there is a draw model which has weight moved towards the heel…an anti-slice configuration to reduce side spin without a closed face angle, a more upright lie or lots of offset between the head and the shaft. Compared with the standard Rogue it has about 17 yards less slice and compared with the Epic driver with weights moved close to the heel, about 7 yards less. The Rogue Sub Zero for better players is a low spin model but still has a high MOI and has two weights in the sole, a 14-gram and a 2-gram to adjust the trajectory and spin. The Epic Sub Zero had 12-gram and 2-gram weights.

Each Rogue driver model is priced at $500 and will be available February 9. The Rogue fairway woods have the Jailbreak rods (made of steel not titanium as they are in the Rogue driver) with Callaway’s well-regarded face cup design. There are two models, the standard and the Sub-Zero. Both are priced at $300.

Senior Golfers–Get Fit

If you remember Arnold Palmer in his prime or Jack Nicklaus dominating the PGA Tour you are probably of the age when golf can take up more of your time—notice I didn’t say retired…simply a shift of priorities. And as the title of this article suggests it’s time to get fit and I don’t mean go to the gym every day, though if you are like me a couple of visits per week wouldn’t do any harm.

What I’m referring to getting clubs that fit your swing.

You hear people say all the time they aren’t “good enough” to have a fitting but that’s not true. No one has a perfect swing and even good players have days when it feels like they are swinging a rock tied to the end of a stick. You don’t have to bring a tour-quality swing to a fitting.

Seniors are like every other golfer in the world. They want more distance. This means making more efficient contact, generating more clubhead speed and for seasoned citizens probably a dose of slice correction is called for as well. These are exactly the types of fixes a good fitter can provide.

To begin with he will have you hit several shots with your current clubs collecting the data on a launch monitor. This provides a baseline or numerical description of the distance, spin and trajectory your swing typically produces. Then drawing from his stock of clubheads, he selects one that is the same as yours and have you hit more shots with shafts that in his experience will help produce better results. Once he is satisfied with the shaft he picks out clubheads for trial until the results have been optimized.

Two more points and you can be on the road to more distance, better scoring and more enjoyment of this ever-frustrating game.

First, going to a fitter that has access to only one brand of clubs might not be the best idea simply because any given manufacturer may not make exactly what you need. Think about it…if one company made the ideal clubs for every golfer then all the other manufacturers would soon be out of business. For this reason, a visit to the professional fitters at a place like Club Champion makes a lot of sense. They have a mind-blowing 35,000 possible club and shaft combinations from which to choose and the expertise to get it right.

Secondly, since its winter and in most of the country it’s too cold and snowy to be on the course, there’s always the question of whether you should wait until the weather improves to get your fitting. For the answer we asked Jay Hubbard, vice president of Club Champion and his reply was succinct, “The off season is a good time to get fit. You’ve been playing all season and you know which clubs are giving you trouble and which ones aren’t. You are familiar with your swing and will replicate it easily during a club fitting making it easier to find the perfect golf equipment.”

Then we asked him to expand on the benefits senior players specifically can expect from having a fitting.

“More than anyone, senior golfers can benefit significantly from regular club fittings. As we age, we lose flexibility and swing speed. These factors can dramatically affect accuracy, distance, trajectory, and carry. Club Champion fitters receive monthly training on club fitting and equipment. They are trained to help every golfer maximize their game. A key component to regaining lost performance is the club shaft. While club manufacturer offers a few shaft alternatives for senior golfers, Club Champion has more than 500 shaft options many, not available from the club manufacturers. Factors such as flex, weight, torque, and kick-point matter and can either dramatically help or hinder the senior golfer. Finding the right shaft, for your game can add as much as 30 yards with your driver and 20 yards with your irons. The result, seniors will enjoy the game more, post lower scores, and play more rounds.”

Who gets the most benefit from dialing in their club specs?

“Club fitting isn’t just for low handicap golfers. The high handicap golfer often benefits the most. We recently conducted a study with Golf Magazine that appeared in the August 2017 issue. One of the high handicap golfers in the study, Joe Dresnok from Palm Coast, Florida is a 71-year-old senior golfer with a 32.1 handicap. After a Club Champion golf club fitting, Dresnok dropped 10 strokes. He commented, “My old clubs were sabotaging me.  “The irons have been spectacular. I just can’t say enough about them. I can’t believe that I can hit greens as frequently, anywhere from 150 to 100 yards, much better than I ever could before. I’m now hitting an 8 iron from where I used to hit a 6 iron.”

Hubbard followed up by adding, “65-year old retired business executive, Samuel Stecker from Hernando Beach, Florida is a 20 handicap. He commented, ‘I am four to six better. The club fitter listened to my physical issues and steered me into the appropriate head and shaft. I am 17 yards farther with my driver and dispersion is as good as ever.’” 

Golf is a lot more fun is we hit the ball better and score lower, so the conclusion is obvious. Get fit and from my own experience I recommend going to one of the master fitters at Club Champion.

NOTE: A Club Champion fitting is easy to arrange simply call 888-340-7820 or go to ClubChampionGolf.com for locations and pricing. My recent driver fitting resulted in specifications for a Ping G400 LST driver with 10-degree loft with a Grand Bassara 39 shaft by Mitsubishi. They also fit me for Srixon Z 765 irons, a forged “muscle-cavity” design, with KBS Tour 90 shafts.

Top Ten Golf Stories of 2017

Woods Comeback…Again: A WD in Dubai in February. Another back surgery in April. A DUI arrest in May with a follow-up treatment program. Tiger Woods’ came back to golf in December for an 18-man exhibition that had some in the media and some of his fans in a frenzy of expectation and speculation. The facts are Woods looked physically fit, seemed to have positive attitude and played fairly well though his short game obviously needs some work if he is to achieve his goal of besting Jack Nicklaus’ major record.

Rollback or Bifurcation: Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson say it’s true. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis agree. The golf ball goes too far. Woods certainly never said this when his prodigious length was blowing away fields and Johnson, whose is even longer, admitted a restricted flight ball would be to his advantage. But as savvy, knowledgeable and vested in the game as these gentlemen are there’s a problem. Neither the available data nor a logical appraisal of the facts support their contention. This however hasn’t stopped them from proselytizing a rollback of ball performance or the creation of the equally objectionable alternative, separate equipment regulations for professionals, i.e., bifurcating the rules.

TMaG Sold: It took a year but Adidas AG (OTCMKTS: ADDYY) was finally able to find a buyer for TaylorMade Golf, Adams Golf and apparel-maker Ashworth. Purchaser KPS Capital Partners, a private investment group, payed $425 million, less than half of the 2016 sales figure and it could turn out to be a bargain. If KPS does as expected and applies the classic turnaround remedies–cutting costs, growing sales and refocusing management– they could recoup their investment by selling the company or taking it public in maybe as few as three years,

Lexi Thompson: Lexi Thompson, the best American player on the LPGA Tour, was penalized four strokes costing her the ANA Inspiration after a television viewer sent an email about a possible infraction the day before. There was lots of official mumbling, something about fair application of the Rules of Golf, but in December the USGA announced effective Jan. 1, no more viewer call-ins or emails about possible rules infractions will be allowed. Many think this reasonable application of common sense is long overdue. Golf now is in line with other sports where the official’s job is to officiate, and the viewer’s job is to view.

Presidents Cup Rout: The U.S. President’s Cup team captained by Steve Stricker beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals by such a lopsided margin the U.S. actually was one-half point from clinching the win before the final day singles matches. Two takeaways—first those who criticized Striker for picking Phil Mickelson were wrong…again. Lefty earned 3 ½ points and, as he has done in the past, was an inspirational leader for the team. Second and more importantly for the future of the Presidents Cup, continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.

Callaway Surges: During the past three years Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) took over TaylorMade’s dominant sales position in woods and irons with products such as the technically innovative Epic driver. Callaway’s irons have been first in sales for over two years and for the past four years they have been the fastest growing major golf ball company. Company sales for 2017 are expected to be approximately $1.035 billion up substantially from the $871 million in 2016.

PXG Success: Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) may not be a major factor in the equipment business but owner Bob Parsons has a real success story he can boast about for this new and somewhat edgy club company with really expensive equipment (the basic driver costs $700). PXG rang up $38 million in sales for 2016, its first year in business, which was great but 2017 looks spectacular. Parsons told Dave Dusek of Golfweek, PXG will have sales of $100 million for the year but more astonishing, make a profit which may be a record for an upstart club company.

PGA Tour Shake Up: Ever mindful of the futility competing for fans attention with the NFL, the PGA Tour has some big changes coming in the 2018-2019 season. The PGA Championship will be played in May rather than August and The Players Championship now in May moves to March. The shakeup includes reducing the FedExCup Playoffs from four to three events allowing the Tour to finish before the NFL season kicks off plus provides some room for schedule tweaks in Olympic years.

Major Winners: Sergio Garcia finally won a major and appropriately it was the Masters. Long-hitting Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, also his first major, doing it in fine style and Jordan Spieth had another multiple win year capped off with the Open at Royal Birkdale. Then there was Play of the Year Justin Thomas who began the year with a 59 in the Sony Open and finished with five wins including the PGA Championship. Each of these players has his own compelling story and next season it should be even more exciting with the return of Tiger Woods.

LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan had quite a year: In the Solheim Cup, the American squad beat up on Team Europe and subsequently Whan offered to aid the financially struggling Ladies European Tour. He had to cancel the Alisport Shanghai tournament from a lack of proper permits and then had to shorten the Evian Championship major to 54 holes from a lack of dry weather but caused an eruption of controversy. Hall of Famer Juli Inkster then rattled some cages with her outspoken contention corporations are unfairly depriving the LPGA of a fair share of monetary support. But when the player’s dress code was modified social media and some conventional media were exposed at their mean and bitchy worst.

The Tiger of Old?

Having a few days pass since Tiger Wood’s competitive comeback at the Hero World Challenge, a few comments seem appropriate.

First a little critique of the telecast. Those looking to break into broadcasting should listen to the gushing commentary by some of the Golf Channel and NBC personalities as an object lesson of what not to do. At time it sounded as if the Hero was a major championship rather than a silly season affair with marginally more significance than your Saturday morning four ball.

Just because Woods is playing again doesn’t mean he is going to contend much less win, but a good deal of the on-air commentary would have you believe that was the case.

Most of the story for the event was about Woods, his return and the state of his game. Understandable of course but it meant there was scant airtime for others in a field that included not only world number one Dustin Johnson, 8 of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30 in the world rankings. Too bad for winner Rickie Fowler’s fans but the TV camera has always had a “Tiger bias” even when he was out of contention, which wasn’t often.

And speaking of the Official World Golf Rankings; that an 18-man exhibition warrants the awarding of ranking points doesn’t make sense and by doing so exposes a systemic weakness. Woods, who started the week at number 1,199, finished in tie for ninth place which earned enough points to move him into a tie for 668 with Mackenzie Tour player Rico Hoey.

Now with that out of the way, what did we see and what can we reasonably surmise from the 72 holes in the Bahamas?

Woods looked healthy, fit and in interviews seemed to have a good attitude about his game saying the majors are his focus. There’s no doubt he wants to pass Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18, but he needs five more majors to do that…the same number as career-long rival Phil Mickelson and that’s a Hall of Fame career all by itself.

Next season, as a 42-year-old with a history of multiple injuries and surgeries, we will be waiting to see if his body holds up. His schedule must be a balance of building up to the four major championships and the “reps” necessary to hone his mental skills after such a long layoff.

His full swing looks good enough to win on Tour but of course majors are another thing altogether. Bobby Jones said it best, “There’s golf and then there is tournament golf.” That can be extended to the majors being at an entire other level of intensity than week-to-week tournament play.

Even detractors and skeptics of Woods must concede this first outing was positive showing at times flashes of the winning form we have seen for 20 years. Woods short game had its moments of adequacy but is not yet at the level he needs to win and specially to win majors against high quality dedicated, skilled competitors on courses so difficult the average scratch amateur wouldn’t shoot within 15 shots of par.

Putting this in perspective, it is good he is back. The game needs him if for no other reason to test the mettle of D.J., Jordan, Justin, Rickie and Rory. Let’s not get carried away but let’s hope he can do it, which leaves the most relevant but unanswered question.

Will he be the Tiger Woods of old or just an old Tiger Woods?

Great Gifts Everyone Will Like to Receive

Callaway Golf Coronado: Callaway has a great line of golf shoes and we like the Coronado priced at $129.95. The microfiber upper is lightweight and waterproof and the midsole is their Opti-soft EVA giving natural ground feel and lots of comfort. The sock liner is especially constructed for heat management and breathability while the TPU Fusion-Lite outsole uses low profile Champ Slim-Lok spikes.

TecTecTec: Don’t purchase the VPRO500 laser rangefinder for $149.99 as a gift just because it is less expensive than many competing distance measuring devices although that’s a good reason. TecTecTec has packed it with lots of features such as it is waterproof, has an ultra-clear 6X magnification lens and is accurate out to 540 yards. It easily captures the flag, a tree next to a layup area or the top of a greenside bunker. The VPRO500 weighs under 7 ounces and fits nicely in the hand plus it has a shock resistance case. There’s even a slope model for $179.99 at tectectec.com.

Chase54 Shakespeare Jacket: For on or off the course wear, this full-zip 100% polyester tech fleece jacket looks good and provides water repellant warmth to extend the golf season. Priced at $143 more details may be found at Chase54.com.

 

 

Bridgestone Tour B – The new Tour B golf balls from Bridgestone has something for everyone. The Tour B X and XS are for low handicappers and the RX and RXS are for mid-to-low handicappers. The price is $45 per dozen and they may be found at most every golf retailer.

More Holiday Gifts on My List

Here’s part two of gift ideas and for the benefit of my family, it really is my wish list as well.

Puma IGNITE DISC Extreme Golf Shoes: An upgrade of the Puma’s popular DISC technology plus a new graphic it combines 4-way stretch mesh with a leather saddle for a great look and it’s still waterproof. Using a DISC closure the insole is a molded EVA, the midsole is full-length IGNITE foam and the outsole is integral TPU performance configuration. All this for the attractive price of $120 per pair and there’s a choice of four colors. Get all the facts at CobraPuma.com.

Ben Hogan: Billed as the most technologically advance irons they have ever built, the Ben Hogan PTx model is for better players looking for a more forgiving iron or those who feel they are ready to move from a super game-improvement iron to one with more control. Made with Hogan’s co-forged titanium-steel construction that precisely places the center of gravity in each clubhead. They may be purchased only through BenHoganGolf.com and are priced at $770 for a seven iron set with steel shafts.

Arccos 360: Arccos pioneered club mounted shot tracking and the new 360 uses 50% smaller sensors placed in the butt end of the grip which automatically record every shot for live shot tracking plus there’s GPS yardage and shot analytics with the smartphone app. Great for on the course game tracking of every round. Priced at $249.99 at ArccosGolf.com.

Chase54 Baroque Polo: A classic paisley print with a nice looking embossed style ideal for any time, any place wear. Makes use of Chase54’s DryFuze fabric for moisture wicking to be comfortable (and dry!) in even hot humid weather. The material even has a slight amount of stretch so there is nothing to restrict the wearer’s swing. Metal collar stays keep the collar from curling and are removable for washing. The price for the Baroque is $76 and may be found along with other Chase54 polos at better retail shops or on Chase54.com.

Cobra King F8 Driver: The F8 (and F8+) have Cobra’s first milled titanium face in a driver model which produces better accuracy plus more distance. Arccos for Cobra Connect is included at no extra charge. When paired with the free smartphone app the distance and accuracy of every drive is measured and tracked plus the app may be used as a GPS yardage rangefinder. This makes a perfect gift certificate item and that ensures a perfect fit. The Cobra F8 and F8+ drivers are $399.

Just the facts, ma’am” – Sgt. Joe Friday

The golf world is all aflutter with the impending return of Tiger Woods and that’s a good thing.

Heaven knows golf needs all the interest and enthusiasm it can get if only to stimulate more participation, more rounds, more equipment sales…well, you get the idea.

What is not needed is another big star complaining how far the ball goes and Woods during a recent podcast joined Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin among others saying golf is in trouble.

Quoting Woods, “We need to do something with the golf ball. I think it’s going too far because we’re having to build golf course[s], if they want to have a championship venue, they’ve got to be 7,400 to 7,800 yards long.”

As if this weren’t indictment enough he continued, “And if the game keeps progressing the way it is with technology, I think the 8,000-yard golf course is not too far away. And that’s pretty scary because we don’t have enough property to start designing these type of golf courses and it just makes it so much more complicated.”

Really? Complicated for who? Not fans nor ordinary golfers who hit 200-yard tee shots. Not when courses are closing left and right and the number of players continues to shrink.

The reason comments from Woods or Nicklaus or Player are a concern is they are among the most respected men in the game and their opinions may eventually push the USGA into “rolling back” ball performance. Rather than being a solution such a retrenchment would be a disaster for equipment makers, recreational players and golf fans.

Some say that ball performance is not a problem and isn’t supported by facts so let’s take a look.

There’s no arguing professionals and other elite players are hitting the ball farther, much farther, and as a result the courses they play have been made longer. That makes sense and similar solutions to mitigate equipment advances have been going on for at least 150 years. Scoring however has not benefited from all this added distance. In 2017 PGA Tour scoring leader Jordan Spieth averaged 68.846 strokes and in 1980 Lee Trevino led all players with 69.73, less than 0.9 stroke improvement in 37 years.

Not exactly a case for manning the barricades to repel the bad guys. Statisticians call that level of difference “noise.”

So if scoring doesn’t support these concerns does an analysis of driving distance?

In 1968 with persimmon heads, 150 gram steel shafts and balata-covered wound balls the average driving distance on Tour was 264 yards. By 1995 it was just about the same–262.7 yards. That year Callaway Golf introduced the “huge” 265cc lightweight titanium head Great Big Bertha driver and longer, lighter graphite shafts soon followed. Predictably because drivers now weighed less swing speeds went up and by 2003 average distance was 285.9 yards—a jump of 23 yards in just eight years.

At the same time the ball also was being improved and the added distance from the new low spinning, solid core balls was readily apparent. In 1996 the 3-layer urethane cover Top Flite Strata came out but the real game-changer was Titleist’s introduction of the Pro V1 in October 2000. Within weeks it became the most played ball on Tour and quickly took over the top spot in retail sales.

From 2003 through 2017 average driving distance increased to 292.5 yards equating to about 17 inches per year in part due to development of even lighter shafts and clubfaces with higher rebound across a larger area. However, a major portion of the gain can be accounted for by course agronomy allowing drier, more closely mown fairways so the ball to rolls much farther. Additionally players are taller and stronger and have intensive physical training regimens. During the same time a huge leap forward in instruction took place as coaches used launch monitors to refine players’ swings to an extent never before possible.

The real proof though is tee ball distance is a lousy predictor of success on the PGA Tour and as might be imagined the best correlation to money won is average score. Driving distance and driving accuracy have the lowest correlation.

The conclusion is plain. Since 1964 average driving distance is 30 yards greater but after 2003 distance enhancing design improvements have been incremental…not revolutionary. Nothing goes up forever.

Finally, though Woods didn’t mention it, there’s another other oft voiced complaint. Something like, “fine old courses have been made obsolete and championships can’t be held there because they don’t have the acreage to add yardage.” Not only has that not true since many of the “fine old courses” have already been lengthened but a lot of them can’t hold professional events for reasons other than the length of the holes. There may be no room for 50,000 fans to park or for the corporate hospitality tents which are a primary source of tournament revenue or perhaps the driving range is not big enough to accommodate more than a fraction of the field.

These facts are rarely mentioned by those decrying golf ball distance gains and have nothing to do with the fact Rory McIlroy and 42 others averaged over 300 yards last season.

Golf does has problems but the distance elite players are hitting the ball is not one of them. Fans want to see the long ball from Rory, Dustin and Bubba and aren’t interested seeing their 120 mph swing send the ball the same distance it went in 1995.

The whole idea of rollback is ridiculous. It’s hard to comprehend how any lessening of ball or driver performance will help sell more tournament tickets, sponsor advertising, merchandise or equipment. The PGA Tour obviously has figured that out and hasn’t joined in with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It also true recreational players are not complaining and it can be argued anything making the game more fun and even a little easier benefits participation. Those who make the assumption length equates to difficulty are also making a mistake. Course design and setup for professional tournaments requires intelligence, creativity and imagination without gimmicks. Maybe something simple such as cutting the rough and fairways higher or installing bunkers on either side of a landing area are possibilities.

Some are concerned about land and water usage which is certainly a legitimate question, not one resulting from how far the ball is being hit, but of the proper use of finite resources. Course architects and maintenance experts are already finding solutions such as drought resistant grasses, course topography and hole routing. What is needed most of all is a change in the mindset of developers who specify an over-the-top expensive “championship” course to aid residential real estate sells or for a resort to put heads in beds.

Here are a couple of simple requests for Tiger. Please come back to the Tour healthy and competitive. Secondly, because of your prominence people listen to your opinion please check out the facts and perhaps your opinion will reflect a new view point…one that is less harmful to golfers and the golf industry.

Killing the Game Slowly

Observers are applauding the European Tour’s renaming the 2018 Austrian Open as the Shot Clock Masters. Putting aside a potential piracy issue around borrowing the Masters Tournament’s name, the whole idea of professionals being on a shot clock is intriguing. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the real world problem of slow play.

By way of background, on every tour and at every amateur tournament there are strong pace of play policy statements but, at least on the PGA Tour, penalties are almost unknown. The most recent was a one stroke penalty handed out to Brian Campbell and Miguel Angel Carballo during the 2017 Zurich Classic but the previous penalized infraction was in 1995.

The European Tour it seems is going to be more aggressive in changing the ways of snail’s-pace toursters and willing to try something new. At their GolfSixes team event in May (an innovative format of team six hole matches) a shot clock was tested and most players accepted it enthusiastically.

During the Shot Clock Masters an official will accompany each group and time players. Fifty seconds will be allowed for the player whose turn it is to hit first while others in the group will have 40 seconds. If a player takes longer he will get a red card, just like in soccer, and more significantly a one stroke penalty. In case of real trouble each player will get two “time outs” giving him double the time. It remains to be seen what will happen in an instance as when Jordan Spieth during the final round of the Open took 26 minutes for his second shot on the thirteenth hole from Royal Birkdale’s driving range.

The Shot Clock Master will be interesting if for no other reason than to see what will be the ruling if one of the big name stars goes over the allowable time deciding on whether it’s a two-iron or three-iron from the rough around a tree over water to a shallow green. But let’s face it, some tour guys are fast and some are slow. Players and officials know who they are.

You and I know the real problem is not with the professionals nor even elite amateurs, it’s that group of guys ahead of you Saturday morning.

There has been lots of research done and opinion voiced about pace of play ranging from less skilled players taking shot after shot without getting closer to the pin to the difficulty of course set up not to mention the distance between a green and the next tee. Some opinions are even based on a combination of ignorance and prejudice and usually have to do with ladies on the course. Or, my personal favorite perfecting illustrating the idiocy of some course managements, seven minute tee times. There are a couple courses in my area that do this and I won’t play there.  

These and other supposed reasons all miss the real cause of slow play, a lack of respect for others.

If offending players respected those being tortured back in the fairway they would simply pick up and move ahead a hole or two. It’s not a privilege to watch the complete circling of every putt twice or going to the bag for multiple club changes. The attitude demonstrated has nothing to do with, “I paid my money and I’m going to play the whole course,” and everything to do with the deep seated knowledge they deserve to play at any pace because they are more important than the guys leaning on their drivers back on the tee.

Unfortunately there probably isn’t any way to get the message across to the worst offenders not even the “While We’re Young” PSAs by Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer. Too bad because though the course is not the only situation where the “me-only” attitude can be seen, as far as golf is concerned it is surely killing the game slowly.