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The Architects Strike Back

Why are you focusing on the ball as opposed to the clubs?

HILLS: The golf ball is more finite, maybe. It's more defined.

MORRISH: Also, you keep replenishing the ball. Say some guy goes out and spends three thousand dollars on new golf clubs; you don't want to hurt him. But if he's going through a dozen balls in three rounds or so, he can replace them and you don't feel bad.

JONES: Plus, if you have a club built to hit the ball farther, it's still going to hit a throttled-back ball relatively farther. So manufacturers can still advertise that way. Jay is right. The ball could be stepped back, and I don't think it would really hurt the manufacturers. They would just redo their specs. Of course, the contrary argument is simply that young golfers like to see their ball sail out there a long way.

HURDZAN: I think that this new technology is good for the game. I think it's good for the average player. It may not be good for tournament golf, but I think that if it gets people interested, if people think they can play better, if they're willing to spend their money in the industry thinking they can play better, I don't have any problem with it. Every time there has been a major technological advance, the game has grown. When we went from a featherie ball, which was going to ruin all the golf courses, to the gutta-percha, the game grew. When we went from the gutta-percha to the wound ball, the game grew. When we went from wood-shafted to steel-shafted clubs, the game grew. Every time we've had these advances, it's made the game a little easier for the average person, and the game has grown.

PASCUZZO: We're only considering part of the story here. The problem that golf is facing right now is that participation rates have been flat for four or five years. I think all of us in the golf industry have a vested interest in growing the game, whether you're a manufacturer or an architect or whatever. Yet we keep putting roadblocks in front of ourselves. To get a project approved now, you have to go through more regulatory scrutiny than Alister MacKenzie could ever have imagined. People who have the opportunity to say yes or no about your project are asking you about water consumption. They're asking you about how much pesticide and fertilizer you're putting on the golf course. And twenty years ago you were at 100 acres of turf grass; now all of a sudden you're at 150 or 160 or 180 acres. Those factors have real impacts. They have dollar impacts and they have impacts on the people who can say thumbs-up or thumbs-down to your project. That's sort of the other half of this picture—if we continue to make golf courses longer to satisfy the best players, to keep up with the club and ball technology, we have to go into public hearings and talk about needing more water, turf and land.

JONES: It's about cost—how many acres, how much turf do you have to maintain?Those costs translate to the golfer. These new courses, the only ones theoretically capable of adapting to everybody's game, are going to be bigger with more expenses. They're going to cost more to play. So the poor golfer buying his $550 driver is only going to want to go to the courses that can accommodate his game, and they're going to be more expensive. The old courses that he used to go to for a reasonable price, he won't want to play anymore. I think that's an important factor.

PASCUZZO: When you talk about cost, basic affordability, you look at how golf has changed versus other things that are vying for recreation dollars. When I was a kid, skiing was the expensive sport. Now I live an hour from Lake Tahoe, and here's the thing: I can take my family to a premium ski resort on a Saturday and spend less money than I would taking them to a premium golf club to play golf. That's the honest truth. My daughter can ski for ten bucks and my sixteen-year-old can ski for thirty, and my wife and I ski for fifty each. If I go to a premium golf club, I pay a hundred bucks for each of us.

There are plenty of places where you can still play for a lot less than that.

PASCUZZO: I'm trying to make the comparison equal—I want to go to a good ski resort, I want to go to a good golf course. What are the options for the average guy?For somebody who is trying to take a family out to play golf or introduce them to golf?It's very expensive, and maybe that's why soccer is so popular now among families with kids. Easy entry level, and it has all the communal relationships and aspects you're looking for.

JONES: And the ball can't go very far.

Let's go back to the golf ball. What precisely do you mean when you talk about restricting the distance balls can go?Spin rates?Materials?

PASCUZZO: We're not smart enough to determine whether it's spin or materials or whatever. Our position as a society is that we're just telling you guys that this is a serious problem that's impacting the game, because we're the guys who see it every day.

The thing the manufacturers ought to be looking at is going from twenty-four million golfers to thirty-four million golfers. That would mean another ten million buying golf balls. Who cares if they go 200 yards, 250 yards or 300 yards?

HILLS: Intimidation is a big factor in golf, and distance can be intimidating for a new golfer, who is not hitting it very far—to go out there and see people overpower the ball.

Perhaps, but distance is also inspirational. Participation levels may be flat, but in terms of spectator interest, the game is growing. And a lot of that is because of the power game.

MORRISH: I think the Tour is enamored with the birdiefest. There are a couple of golf courses they play every year where the members play the course longer than the Tour players do. And I think that's wrong.

JONES: Birdies sell tickets.

PASCUZZO: Even on the Champions Tour. That's their major concern—to have those guys shooting under par.

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