published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Longer courses pad ability gap

Barney Adams, head of Adams Golf, has a little secret about the technology involved in the golf clubs of today.

They're not that different from the clubs of yesterday or yesteryear.

"Today's big-headed drivers and graphite shaft, the difference is minuscule," said Adams, who will be a key speaker Monday during the American Society of Golf Course Architects annual meeting at The Chattanoogan. "Today's stuff is better and it has improved. But if I go back and take the Titleist golf ball that I played in the [19]50s, and the wooden-head clubs that I played in that era, the difference is small.

"But because it's such a marketing-driven business, you'd think the difference is immense."

Computer technology has advanced much further than golf club and golf ball technology.

"The PlayStation3 has more computing power than the Pentagon computer system of 1997," Adams said. "We are a regulated industry by the USGA. That means if I can beat them because I invented a magic material, they'll change the rule so it's not OK."

Even if the technology developments are slight, professional players are hitting the ball farther than ever.

The PGA Tour average in driving distance is 285 yards this year, led by Bubba Watson at 313 yards. The average club the pros hit into greens on par-4s is an 8-iron from 143 yards, according to Adams.

But that's for the professionals. Average golfers have much longer distances to cover with their second shots. Adams unveiled a Tee It Forward program last year in conjunction with the USGA and the PGA of America, which encouraged average amateurs to play from one teeing ground closer than normal to increase their pleasure of playing and the pace of play.

He's advanced that idea to make the average approach from 143 yards no matter what teeing ground golfers start from.

"The golf industry lost more than one million players across the country last year, and that impacts anybody whose business touches golf," Adams said. "I don't care how you get there, it's about what I call the 'Tour approach' from 143 yards if you want to be on a level playing field with the tour."

Golf courses countered new technology by adding length to the courses, especially off the tee.

Courses from Augusta National to The Honors Course to the Bear Trace at Harrison Bay have added new teeing grounds in the last decade to challenge longer hitters -- who happen to be just a small percent of those who play the game.

"Most of the benefits of hitting it longer go to the better players, which takes them and puts them further ahead of the average player," said Rick Robbins, who designed Canyon Ridge in Rising Fawn, Ga. "Length doesn't challenge the better players. What challenges them most is how you set up the course."

Bear Trace rarely places tee markers at its championship distance, and The Honors Course reserves its longest tees from championship events.

"If we build 7,400-yard golf courses, who is going to play them?" said Rick Schmidt, who began his career designing courses for Jack Nicklaus. "It's very difficult to convince courses that they don't need it. Moving tees back takes more property, when really they should be moving up and having more fun."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics β€” specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration β€” and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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