Sunday, 2 December 2012

Now that not even Old Course contours are sacred... - an open letter to the R&A, USGA, TaylorMade and Callaway

Dear Sir

I am a golf architecture enthusiast and blogger who has sent this open email to Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, Mike Davis, Executive Director of the USGA, Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade-adidas and Oliver G Brewer, CEO of Callaway Golf.

I write in light of the events surrounding the updates currently being carried out to St Andrews' Old Course, although I do not propose to focus on the works in question.

Instead, I wish to look beyond the Old Course, the recent controversy over a beefed-up Augusta National and the annual constriction applied wherever the US Open seeks to pitch its tent.

The modification of venerable golf courses, often taking them away from what they were originally designed to be, is becoming so routine a cause of outcry within the game, that I hope golf's administrators on both sides of the Atlantic will at least concede that it is now officially 'an issue'.

What frustrates me about this issue is that so much of the debate it generates seems merely to dance around the elephant in the room, namely the end game.

The growing tension between golf architecture and equipment technology begs a question that I rarely see addressed, let alone answered. Where does it all end? When there is no more real estate left for championship tees to retreat to, then what?

I have therefore addressed this email to two of the game's current custodians and also to two principal players in the equipment industry, in the hope that between you, you can crystallise answers to the questions which follow.

In answering them, I would merely ask you to imagine for a moment that you have drunk from the fount of eternal youth and will be in your current post for the next 50 years. Merely kicking the can down the road for those who come after you is therefore not an option. The buck stops with you until this problem is resolved.

With this in mind:

Question 1 - I believe there is a concern that introducing a tournament ball that travels a way shorter than its regular counterpart would trigger litigation. Just so I am clear on this, who would sue whom and on what grounds?

Question 2 - (addressed to Messrs King and Brewer in particular) Imagine a scenario in which the said tournament ball would be reserved for use only on those courses that are regarded as the game's cathedrals. Let's call them 'heritage courses' for the sake of argument. I'm sure I don't have to spell out to any of you the calibre of venue that would qualify for such 'heritage' status. It strikes me that even if the 'heritage' net was cast fairly wide, it would still leave more than enough courses on both European and US Tours each season that could play host to the regular ball and attendant earthmoving machinery, thus providing an ample 'shop window' for the type of ball you would be looking to sell to the ordinary golfer. Would such a compromise go some way to allaying manufacturers' fears on this issue? If not, why not?

Question 3 - to Messrs Dawson and Davis, I simply repeat the question raised earlier. Imagine a time in the future when there is no more land available behind the tees at your Open venues. Assuming the march of technology  remains relentless at that point, what is your Plan B?

Question 4 - Please read the following quote from a golf course architect made earlier this year - "Someone like Adam Scott has to hit a 5-iron off every tee if he wants to play Swinley Forest. He can't go to Sunningdale and have fun anymore. He can't play it in the way Bobby Jones played it, or how Harry Colt wanted it to be played." Which word more closely describes your immediate reaction to this comment - "sad" or "progress"?

None of these are intended to be loaded questions: I am simply trying to push this topic to its logical conclusion and ascertain how central figures in the debate see it playing out.

This letter has been published on my blog The Golf Course as Art ( and I would propose to publish your replies there also. I do hope you can find the time to let me have your thoughts.

Yours faithfully,

Jeffrey Prest 

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