Saturday, February 25, 2006

Who's hitting it farther with Technology?

I don't think there's much dispute that the tour pros are hitting the ball farther these days, a lot farther. Tons of guys now regularly hit it over 300 yards. I just read the other day in Frank Hannigan's column that there has been an average increase in their driving averages of 27 yards over the last decade. General consensus has 15 yards of that due to the club and 15 due to the ball. And now we're finally getting some discussion on what might be done about it. But my issue here is with the rest of us.

Most pundits agree that the average golfer has not gained any distance. Yet, we have access to the same clubs and balls. Maybe we don't have the clubs fine tuned like the pros, but we can still get the same club heads providing the famous trampoline effect. Is it really true we don't hit it further today than we did 10 years ago?

When I first tried the Pro Vs, I did my own little test. I played by myself on a nice summer evening. I played a couple of Stratas and a couple of Pro Vs. I could swear I was about 10 yards longer on the drive with the Pro V, but I admit the test wasn't scientific.

I just bought myself a slightly used Nike 460. I haven't taken it on the course yet, as we still have snow on the ground, so I don't have any experiencial data to report. I'm thinking of taking it to a really good local clubmaker and trying the swing launch monitor thing. This involves about $4,000 in equipment and with it they can tell you everything about your club and ball at impact. How fast, how high, launch angle, how much spin and who knows what else. Then the clubfitter selects just the right shaft, with all the right characteristics to maximize your distance and control. The evaluation costs about $50 and then there's the cost to revamp the club. The shaft alone could cost more than $100 bucks. Don't know if I want to spend that kind of money, but maybe I'll do it in the name of science. If I do, I'll be sure to write about the experience here.

What I want to know is what is the experience of the rest of you. Are the 'experts' right that we amateurs aren't gaining any distance. Or could there be another explanation. Maybe we are gaining, but nobody tracks it so no one knows. Or maybe you have to be at a certain handicap level to take advantage of the technology. I'd sure like to know. I think I'd be most releaved to find out we aren't gaining anything. Then I could stop lusting after new clubs, believing that they are the answer to what ails my game. And think of the money I could save!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Can Pro Golf Remain Popular?

Most everyone has a favorite sport. Maybe it's the one you were best at, or the one your mother took you to for your first professional event. Maybe it's the one where your grandfather was a semi-pro.

I know guys who have been addicted to basketball their entire life; played in college and then continued to play in adult leagues for the next 35+ years. However, most of these guys don't and won't watch pro basketball. They love college hoops, but detest the NBA. So there must be something besides your love for the sport itself.

Everyone likes a story - a drama. We're conditioned for good and bad guys, them and us. I think most of us like to identify with the athletes, even if we could never dream of performing at their level. And the games or contests have to be interesting and exiting. It always attracts fans when someone takes the game to a new level, doing things we've never seen before. With all the media attention athletes get in this day and age, we like someone who has something to say - someone who makes good copy.

Maybe not everyone would agree, but I think most of us want a sport that's clean and honest. We need there to be someplace where fair play is guaranteed because it seems just the opposite in every other public arena. Most us like tradition, particularly in a world that seems to be nothing but change. We also like big stakes. We want a build up and then a final nerve-racking conclusion. As they used to say on NBC - we want the 'thrill of victory and the agony of defeat'. If it can happen on a grand scale to the greatest players, then maybe our own lives aren't so out of line.

I'd say that, in general, the game of golf has the necessary criteria to stay popular. It reeks of tradition, sportsmanship, pay only for performance, honesty and a general lack of scandal. Many of us have played the game, even the same courses as the pros. (When's the last time you shot hoops at the Garden?) And what's more interesting, many of us have done as well on a hole as any pro just by making a birdie, or sinking a 35 foot putt. (When's the last time you grabbed a rebound and then went straight up and jammed it home?) The game may not have many colorful players based on those in other pro sports, but no one looks like they're on steroids or even tempted to use them. Instant replays aren't necessary. There are no referees to make controversial calls. There are a few stupid rules, but that just shows it reflects the human condition.

What could kill the sport then? If all players start looking the same for one. I've written before that this has happened to men's tennis and look where they've fallen. Golf isn't there yet, but there are cracks showing. There are fewer 'characters' on the tour these days. Who wants to do their own thing when so much money is up for grabs every week. Show boating is fine until there's a million dollars at stake.

Could the presentation of golf be a negative for the game? I like to see player's hit full shots. Mostly they seem to show us putts. This is understandable because this is where the final score on a hole is determined and it can be quite a dramatic moment. So far, we don't have the video capability to show a shot like it looks when you're standing next to the guy who's hitting. We can see the swing, but there's no ball tracking. They try to show some ball flight, but for all we now that footage of the ball flying could be stock. It's just not the same as the real thing. And you can't see the ball being worked, maybe that's why they've allowed technology to undermine those skills. It's too bad, because watching ball flight is very rewarding. At some point, just seeing putt after putt doesn't warm the heart much.

And if I want to see who can hit it the farthest, then aren't I better watching the Long Drive competition. Perhaps Hi-Def TV will make a difference. I've seen it do wonders for a ski race because you can see depth of field. I imagine it might do a lot for golf as everything looks flat on traditional broadcasts. It's very hard to get a feel for the pitch of a green, or how deep a bunker is. New technology might change that.

And if new technology might improve presentation, then maybe old technology might save the pro game from the same fate as tennis. Without 300+ yard drives being commonplace we might see more of the longer irons, more working of the ball, and more unique swings. And even the pros themselves are looking more and more alike these days. I miss Arnie's slashes, Lee with his West Texas flat swing, and Chi Chi looking like Gumbi. With the pros losing some distance you'd also see a lot more great old short courses come back into play. Some of the most beautiful and challenging holes of golf are short, but often can't stand up to a 340 yard poke.

Isn't there an old saying that says 'nothing ever stays the same'. You're either on your way up or on your way down. Who out there thinks pro golf is actually getting better?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

MapMuse, Map This!

From what I understand the number of golfers playing the game in the US is not growing. On the other hand, I'd say there's a new course opened about every day of the year. My conclusion; that a lot of private clubs are looking for new members. I know many clubs in New England have reduced entry fees and/or initiation dues to attract new members. Problem is, they don't have a very good way of advertising their opportunities.

Who wants to admit that you are looking for members. Most clubs are supposed to be prestigious, meaning you should have to work to get in. Advertising cut rates in the paper takes away some of the glamour perhaps or could make people think there might be something wrong. Maybe they just had their greens wrecked by frost kill.

On the other hand, let's say you just moved into a new area and you're an avid golfer with some ready cash. Wouldn't you like to be able to see all the local private courses compared in a spreadsheet. Show me initiation, annual fees, mandatory spending levels, course length and rating, average age of members and distance from home. It sure would help the decision making process.

Now imagine an interactive map that uses your zip code as the center location and shows you markers for every course within your selected radius. Add in membership fees, course details, hole by hole descriptions, clubhouse amenities, and name of the local pro and you've got an application I'd sure like to use. A company called MapMuse has the beginnings of just such a product. Check them out at You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kids Eye View - The Innocence of Golf

Sometimes I am reminded with all the technology and big business and sponsors and money and Tiger that golf is a wonderful and simple game of hitting a ball, chasing it and enjoying the beauty of nature and the warmth of friendship.

These drawings come from the British Golf Museum.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Greg Norman Australian Prime

Like him or not you have to admire Greg Norman's penchant for starting businesses. He starts one as easy at Tiger drops 6 footers. This time he is getting involved with Australian grain-fed beef. Greg is teaming up with the world's biggest beef producer, the Austrailian Agricultural Company which will lead to the launch of the Greg Norman Australian Prime beef brand on to export markets.

"There is no doubt that Australian food products, and beef in particular, resonate very strongly with U.S. consumers, because of this country's clean, green, wholesome image," Norman said.

I, for one, am a big fan of Norman wines so I suspect Norman beef will be held to the same high standards as all the other Norman branded ventures.

For more info click here.