To Golf or Not to Golf, that is the Question
I love golf. In fact, I consider myself a golf nut. I appreciate the history, the technical aspects of the game, the persistence required to achieve even mediocre proficiency and the enjoyment of hitting balls purely with tools that were first made from old apple tree branches. And as boring as it sounds, watching golf on TV is both relaxing and an opportunity to learn from better players (otherwise known as vicarious proprioception). But the sport of golf has changed dramatically over the years, which is the main focus of this article.
Misconception #1: You have to be rich to play golf.
What was once a sport reserved for privileged individuals is now available to almost anyone who’s interested in the game. Plenty of courses now offer low-cost memberships starting at $40/mo with free range balls and free early-bird golf. If you have the time, you can also volunteer at a golf course and play for FREE. Golf club sets, shoes and proper attire can be found at little to no cost through Goodwill, resale shops and Craigslist (I bought my first used set on Craigslist for $75 and sold it 3 years later for the same price).
And there are always plenty of balls and tees on the course already. I’ve personally never paid for a single golf ball or tee. It’s like trying to find ammunitions in the middle of a battlefield. They’re everywhere. As an aside, I made my first Eagle from 90 yards out with an old range ball I borrowed. The guys I played with said it didn’t count since it wasn’t a “real” ball. Haters will hate, and unfortunately they were wrong. The only non-conforming golf balls that I’m aware of are smaller and heavier than “normal” golf balls.
Online stores make purchasing golf clubs and accessories easy and inexpensive. Sites like Global Golf, Value Golf, Rock Bottom Golf and other pre-owned golf companies significantly reduce the cost to play. There’s no reason to pay full price for golf clubs at a golf store, but it’s the best place take a test drive before buying the same thing online for a fraction of the price.
As your skills improve, you may consider building your first set of golf clubs. It’s not rocket science. I recently built an awesome set for less than the price of a used set. Most importantly, the set fits like a glove. Knowing what I know now, I could never buy an off-the-rack club again. The probability of the club(s) fitting you properly is very low.
Sir, You’re a Scholar and a Gentleman
Golf should always be considered a lady’s and gentlemen’s game. But what makes the sport something to be respected? Well, first of all, recommended golf attire is pants (not jeans) a collared shirt and proper shoes. Don’t be “that guy ” who shows up to a golf course in a DIY cut-off t-shirt, sweat pants, flip-flops and a trucker’s hat (turned backwards of course).
Second, proper behavior is also a must. Be polite and compose yourself. Don’t yell after a bad shot and throw your clubs like some of the uncouth tour players do on TV. It’s disrespectful to yourself, others and to the game. Just the other day I played with a young man whom I was paired with at a local golf course. He asked to ride in the cart I rented. After watching him yell, curse and throw his clubs like a two-year-old, I politely asked him to stop. When it got worse, I gracefully removed his bag from the cart while he walked over to the gold tees (reserved for pros) with his 36+ handicap and took off. Problem solved. Oh, and by the way, enjoy your walk back to the clubhouse.
Longer Courses, Longer Drivers, Shorter Tempers
Golf equipment has made a gigantic technological leap in the past 100 years. What caused the sport to change so dramatically? The sport of golf first met capitalism during the end of the 1800’s. The business of making custom clubs evolved into mass production of golf equipment during the industrial revolution. The marketing efforts of the industry propelled the sport into what it is now. Whittled down tree branch shafts and handmade persimmon wood heads have been replaced with ultra-light graphite shafts and CNC milled titanium drivers. But have golfers gotten better as a result of the increases in technology? No they haven’t.
Back in the 1950’s, the average driving distance of a professional golfer was 240 yards. Today it’s 290. However, although new materials are helping golfers hit longer drives, less of theses shots are staying on the fairways (which results in higher scores). Golf courses, to accommodate technological advances, were then designed and redesigned to be wider and longer (some courses actually remained the same to encourage players to finish quicker). So, although the perception is that golfers are getting better because they’re hitting longer drives, the harsh reality is that improvements in technology and course design are not lowering golf scores.
Iron lofts have also changed over the years. The typical Taylormade 5 iron was 35 degrees in 1980, 26 degrees in 2007 and 22 degrees in 2015. That’s 13 degrees of difference between 1980 and 2015! Decreased lofts = Increased distances (9 degrees of loft = 20-25 yards of distance). Bottom line: although golfers are hitting balls greater distances, the accuracy and precision of these shots are getting worse.
Misconception #2: Longer is Better
Drivers used to be 42’’-43’’ long. Now they’re an average of 45.5’’. Combined with lighter materials, golfers are hitting longer, but not straighter. For example, Tiger Woods uses a 42.75’’ driver and drives the ball 295-310 yards (PGA pros averaged 44.5’’ in 2016 and averaged 280 off the tee). I built mine at 43’’. I’m no Tiger, but I can drive the ball 230-240 and hit 8 out of 10 fairways as long as I’m not swinging out of my shoes. Straighter shots keep you in play and result in lower scores. Period.
In order to benefit from the recent technological advancements that the club making industry provides, golfers need to be tall, strong and have excellent hand-eye coordination. But this is not the case for the majority of golfers. Furthermore, the unfortunate reality is that a tall athletic person with average hand-eye coordination can hit longer than 99% of people with a croquet mallet. So it’s not a good idea to compare ourselves to most professional golfers. It’s like comparing our looks to professional models and actors on TV. I may have a lot of grey hair, but I’m no George Clooney. The average person should thus be more concerned about their overall physical strength, flexibility and their short game instead of focusing on 6’3” professional golfers who use the newest drivers developed by Boeing, whatever that even means. Does it come with a half-can of soda, some honey roasted peanuts and a lost head cover?
The Future of Golf
Many people have and will continue to quit this wonderful game based on the fact that missing the ball consistently lowers self-confidence. The future of golf depends on the leaders of the industry to create equipment that helps people enjoy the game. Focusing research on shorter drivers, highly customizable single-length clubs and single-plane golf swings will create a paradigm shift in the industry. I built a single-length set to develop a more consistent swing and lower my scores. It works. And if you’d like to learn about an under-appreciated golf genius who was (and still is) the greatest ball-striker in the history of the sport, I highly recommend watching this video about Moe Norman.
Dr. John Hofmann