Why Are Handicaps Going Up?

With all of the advances in clubheads, shafts and balls, the average golfer isn’t getting any better. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that handicaps are actually going up.

The Scotsman has an interesting—if rather depressing—take on the subject.: that golf courses are being made more difficult to cater to the top one percent. Longer holes, tighter fairways and faster greens are negating the advantages of better club technology.

Super Coach Hank Haney said:

“The biggest factor, however, is that golf courses today are generally so much more difficult than they used to be. What makes a course difficult – and you tend to see this whenever a big event is being played and the greenkeeper has prepared the place specially – is fast greens. Not only are fast greens more difficult to putt on and chip to, you have to hit your drives into the right spots if you are to have any chance of getting your approach shots close to the hole. When the ball runs after it lands, the game is always harder.”

In the article, author John Huggan also points out what the GolfBlogger has been saying for some time: making the courses longer just plays into the hands of the big hitters like Tiger and Mickelson. It’s true that on super long courses, the uber-drivers will be hitting into greens with a seven iron istead of a wedge. But the rest of the field will be hitting into those fast greens with a four iron or wood. (On some small scale, I know exactly what that feels like. I’m typicallyusing a club or two more than my playing partners for the approach.).

Unfortunately, Huggan also shoots down GolfBlogger’s pet theory about how to Tiger proof a course—to make the rough longer. The big hitters, Huggan contends, don’t really care about being in the rough (unless you make it US Open long, which I suppose the players wouldn’t tolerate.)

But there is a glimmer of hope—and something to think about at the end of the article, in another quote from Haney:

“We need to have more courses set up like Hoylake was for last year’s Open. There were different ways to play that course – you had choices. You could hit it long, and risk getting into trouble. Or you could hit short of the trouble. Or you could hit it medium length, and have a great week accuracy-wise. Hoylake rewarded everything, and penalised only long and crooked. The typical course on the PGA Tour doesn’t do that. “

So here’s something to contemplate: a complete rethinking of how courses are designed—or perhaps a return to the way courses used to be designed. Imagine a course where every style of play would be rewarded, so long as you executed your shots and putted well. Where on every shot, a player had several options, each with its own risk and reward. (Like Augusta before the current regime fell into the Tiger proofing trap).  It could be done, but I’m guessing that most of today’s celebrity course “designers” wouldn’t be up to the task.

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