Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Ball rollback - is that the tortured whine of vested interests I hear...?

English: Golf ball.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I may be wrong. I'm no engineer or materials expert, so I could be talking regally through my rear end when professing a certain frustration with the latest example of heels being dug in over the bid to rein in the tournament golf ball.

But you know when your kids come up with all sorts of excuses why their exam results weren't so good and the more they pile it on, the more you can see only someone who needs to get his finger out?

That's what I'm feeling here, as I read John Paul Newport's interview with the experts on the ramifications of endeavouring to keep classic courses in play and inviolate by means of a reduced-distance golf ball.

And yes, I readily admit that I might be slightly less cynical were the reservations being expressed by someone other than "engineers from several leading ball manufacturers", whose bosses don't give a flying fig have been somewhat tardy in briefly placing the interests of a game that has made them rich ahead of their lust for absolute profit.
"It would be relatively simple to turn down the distance on a driver by 25 yards," said John Rae, vice president for research and development at Srixon. "The two obvious approaches would be to change the dimple pattern and to change the restitution [the elasticity, or speed] of the core. But once we did that, we wouldn't know, out of the gate, what to expect from the rest of the set."Deepening the dimples, for example, promotes added backspin, lift and drag, all of which reduce distance. "Let's say you make a drive go 25 yards shorter by aerodynamics," said Dean Snell, TaylorMade's vice president for golf-ball research and development. "That same ball hit with a five iron might lose even more distance, since five irons create more spin to start with. It might lose 40 or 50 yards." Starting with the six or seven iron, however, the effect of aerodynamics begins to fade rapidly, since balls hit with shorter clubs move more slowly through the air. The same ball hit with a wedge might lose only a few yards of distance, or none at all."Nothing is cut and dried," said Snell. "When you make a change here, it has an impact there, and it may not be proportional." Srixon's Rae, after patiently walking me through several scenarios and pointing out how interdependent the many variables are—some balls have five layers, each with different properties and thicknesses—finally sighed and said, "The problem with even having this conversation is that it quickly spiderwebs out into a million factors."
This could all be valid. But, because I've had thirty years of seeing how companies work, I have no qualms in suggesting that it could also be fudge, fudge, fudge. Is replicating the ball of two decades ago really so hard? Hell, I still have some in my bag if Bridgestone and TaylorMade are running out of test models.

I said it here - in relative terms, we're looking to keep a handful of venerated courses from being  rendered obsolete or else turned into mutants whenever a Major's in town, in much the same way we're looking to keep electric guitar riffs out of the Moonlight Sonata.

For a small number of tournaments each year, how's about the R&A/USGA produce their own tournament ball, which everyone uses? We get to see the game's cathedrals still in use by the best in the business and for all the other weeks, the pros can go back to crushing the OrbitBuster Manhood 59 down the fairways of HoHum Country Club to their hearts' content.

In a world where everyone was pulling in the right direction, instead of being trapped in the gravitational pull of corporate self-interest, I can't help but wonder if this would happen rather more easily than Messrs Snell and Rae would have you believe.

Perhaps a nudge in the right direction might be to stop hiding this issue behind the safe, neutral label of "ball rollback". Calling it "course vandalism rollback" might at least help concentrate one or two  minds.

Pic of the Day - sadly doomed, California's Ocean Meadows Golf Club leaves this visual memory, made only more charming by the venue's slightly frayed demeanour.

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