Jack Would Have Been Third

LongDrive

Two years ago the PGA of America realizing how much interest there had been in the long drive competition formerly held before the PGA Championship so they reinstated it. Fans really love seeing their favorites who will be competing for the Wanamaker Trophy in two days put a peg in the ground and swing as hard as they could.

On Tuesday South Korean sensation Byeong-Hun An had the longest drive managing a very credible 347 yards, besting Rory McIlroy by two yards and Nicolas Colsaerts by six.

But wait, Jack Nicklaus at Dallas Athletic Club in 1963 using a persimmon headed driver and a wound balata cover ball took the long drive contest that year with a tee shot just inches under 342 yards.

A drive which would have put him third in this year contest.

And, if I’ve done the math correctly, it means in the intervening 53 years the winner gained an unspectacular five yards. So allowing for the difference in the price of drivers then and now that works out to just over $100 per yard.1963Clip

Rather than this being a knock on today’s improved technology compared to five decades ago it’s more a statement of how unimaginably hard the Golden Bear could hit the ball with vastly inferior equipment. Pictured is the money clip he still carries for the win all those years ago.

Images courtesy of Jack Nicklaus and PGA of America

PGA 100 in 2016

DemoDay2015_400x300

The Professional Golfers’ Association of America marks their centennial next year and the celebration begins in January with the largest gathering of the golf industry, the PGA Merchandise Show held annually in Orlando, Fla.

PGAThe PGA, arguably the most important golf organization, has 27,000 members who are the frontline of industry interaction its customers. Teaching the golf swing, overseeing the tee sheet, selling a new set of irons, setting up tournaments and managing course personnel all are the job of a PGA Professional. Even though at times, it may seem his or her primary task is lending a sympathetic ear to the sorry state of our golf games.

The beginnings of the PGA in 1916 are interesting since a major impetus to start the organization came from the outside, from New York City department store owner and avid golfer Rodman Wanamaker. At that time all professionals were “club pros,” there was no such thing as the PGA Tour, and a large part of every club pro’s income was the sale of clubs and balls. Wannamaker felt golf equipment sales could be increased if they got together and started a professional organization. He sponsored a luncheon in January of 1916 where the idea was discussed and received general approval so that in April the PGA of America was chartered.

The rest as they say is history. The new organization was quick to create competitions for its members with the first PGA Championship played just six months later in October. Jim Barnes, future member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was the first victor taking the winners share of the $2,580 purse put up by Wanamaker, who also paid for the trophy; the same Wanamaker Trophy still presented to the champion.

The PGA Merchandise Show began during the week of the 1954 PGA Seniors Championship in Dunedin, Fla. being played at the then PGA National Golf Club. Salesmen from several equipment and apparel companies set up in the parking lot using the trunks of their cars and folding table to display products.2014_MRCH_OfficialContractor_GoldBlue

In its 60 years the Show has grown to more than 1,000 exhibitors housed in one million square feet with 10 miles of exhibit aisles in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. Restricted to PGA professionals and members of the golf industry, attendance at the January 2015 Show topped 40,000. For many if not most PGA Professionals the dozens of professional development continuing education classes alone are sufficient reason to attend not to mention the immensely popular Demo Day held at the Orange County National Golf Center prior to Show opening.

The PGA Merchandise Show is considered mandatory by golf industry insiders both as representing the start of a new golf year and for providing the opportunity to interact with their peers and conduct business.

Images courtesy of the PGA of America

Success at Golf

SUGC2_400x300For the best players in the world golf is not easy which is odd since the concept is so simple—start here and hit a ball into a hole over there. But as even casual golfers know that’s really hard to do.

So accepting the difficulty of the pastime we call golf (they were going to call it something else but all the other four-letter words were being used), recognize we only add to the frustration by playing courses set up so we have no chance of success. That doesn’t mean everyone but pros and scratch handicaps should play putt-putt layouts but suppose we define golfing success as having an enjoyable time with friends and a reasonable opportunity to make a few pars during a round? How about an occasional birdie on the card?

You get my point. The game is a lot less fun and certainly we feel a lot less successful if, on a par-4, after hitting our best drive and a pretty darn good second shot we still must hit a mid-iron (or more) to reach the green. Sound familiar? It’s the idea behind the PGA’s program “Tee It Forward” which encourages golfers to play from a tee set ahead of where they usually play. Less distance, a chance to reach most if not all of the par-4s in two and maybe even have something less than a wood for the third shot on the par-5s.

It’s more fun too. Certainly a win-win for golfers and golf because if it’s more fun people will play more often and bring their friends. women-golfers-400x300

But what if you’re already playing the most forward set of tees and still can’t reach any of the par-4s in less than three or four shots? Or that you must hit driver on every par-3 (and are still short of the green)? And forget about the par-5s which are more like par-7s or par-9s. Players in this category have slower swing speeds and are effectively playing courses approaching 8,000-yards based on the relative distance they can hit the ball.

PGA Tour professionals don’t even play courses that long so we are asking these shorter hitting usually less skilled players to sacrifice fun, enjoyment and the thrill of making a birdie for someone else’s idea of golf.

By and large these players are women, who along with juniors are the segments of the population where golf can find new players…its chance for growth.

This notion shorter hitting women should tee it up on a course that for them is a 1,000-yards longer than the guys on Tour play is not a great way to keep anyone playing golf much less make it attractive to take it up. Then there’s the issue of holes with long forced carries or cross hazards in front of greens or bunkers placed so there’s no way to run a ball on to the green and one of my favorites—putting surfaces management has decided should emulate the contours and speeds of Augusta National during the Masters.

Boy, talk about a formula to back up play and drive all but the most fervent out of the game…you couldn’t plan it any better, even if you tried.

Put another way, our game has intellectual and emotional rewards that attract and keep people playing. It is also endlessly frustrating and a test of character like almost no other. So if we want to push people out—particularly ladies with the capability to hit their drives maybe 150-yards—making courses long and difficult is a sure to accomplish the goal. Plus playing from tees that are too long is a primary cause of slow play so the proper course set up goes a long way to solving the “I don’t have the time, it takes too long” reason why people don’t play or play less. Put everyone on a set of tees commensurate with how far they hit the ball and play is much faster.

SUGCWhat brought this all into focus for me was a booklet done by the PGA America for its members entitled, “Setting Up Golf Courses For Success-A Critical Factor in Attracting More Women to Golf.”

It’s filled with interesting solutions targeted at making courses more enjoyable for women. There’s some obvious concepts (though the vast majority of courses still don’t get it) such as a set of tees so women can hit short and middle irons into par-4s just like men rather than a fairway wood. Or how about setting up the course figuring out the correct set up to leave approach shots over cross hazards that can be hit with a lofted club so there’s some chance it will stay on the green rather than run over as it probably would if a fairway wood had to be used.

My favorite section though is “Tee Nomenclature” which tackles the traditional black, blue, white and red tee names, holdovers from a bygone era when gender and age somehow were the determinants of where you could play. How about dropping these preconceptions and naming tee sets after local landmarks, people or even just different colors than the “sacred” four. We need to change the negative connotation some men seem to have from playing “the ladies tees” or the inane testosterone-dripping “taking it back to the tips” or whatever else gets in the way of everyone playing the set of tees most suited for their skill level.

Presuming of course there are a set of tees meeting criterion.

Which brings us back to “Setting Up Golf Courses for Success” and the basic idea if women can’t hit the ball over 150-yards there should be tees they can play to get the satisfaction and enjoyment inherent in the game.

Images courtesy of the PGA of America

“Setting Up Golf Courses for Success” by Arthur D. Little, senior trustee of the Royal Little Family Foundation with support from golf industry organizations is available online at PGA.com