So it's happening. The era of monster golf courses has finally, officially, arrived.
There's no doubt the landscape of golf is literally changing. Par-4's over 500 yards (see: (Whistling Straits)), premium tournament courses measuring 7,600 yards (see Torrey Pines), 8,000-yard public courses, 350+-yard drives - the cats are all out of the bag.
Due to equipment technology and the athletic prowess of the modern player, the former limits of distance - yardages that were once more science fiction that real - have now been surpassed. The response to these broken barriers has been for architects and owners to build longer golf courses while the choir bemoans the voyage that technology has taken us.
We hear and read about this size problem all the time. The matter has turned into somewhat of a debate with key players showing concern, particularly golf course architects who believe it befalls them to keep up with the lumberjack-swinging pros, while others - manufacturers and a handful of owners - realize the intrigue and potential marketability that loooong golf courses create.
The mistake in all of this is that both architects and owners assume a foregone yet faulty conclusion, and that's that longer golf courses are somehow necessary. They aren't.
I for one am not convinced we need to build golf courses longer than we have been over the last decade, and with a few key tournament exceptions, we don't need to lengthen most of our older courses, either.
For the modern professional and scratch player, a sub-7,000-yard course may no longer present an adequate challenge, especially at a par of 72. For nearly everybody else, the bread and butter of the golf industry, 6,500 to 6,700 yards is more than enough challenge.
The length issue comes down to this: whom are we trying to please - a spare handful of elite players or the overwhelming majority of ordinary golfers? Are we really so beholden that we're willing to alter entire courses and design strategies for 1- or 2-percent of the golfing populace?
Golf courses are fine as they are. For whom other than about 1,000 people on the planet is golf in danger of becoming too easy? The top player in the world still experiences highs, lows, slumps and bitter frustration.
Most discussions regarding golf equipment, long drives, 7,500-yard courses, and basically any other issue of length overlooks one fundamental factor: short golf holes and golf courses are only a "problem" for a miniscule percentage of players.
The professional-caliber game has little to do with the way the rest of us play. It's human nature to admire and even emulate famous figures, but these guys aren't going to be coming to your course any time soon, and if they do, they'll be gone in four hours.
Equipment technology is like the weather: everybody complains about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.
That's because the only organization that can effectively control the technology is the USGA (in this country), and they don't seem to be in any hurry to legislate limits. Though architects lobby and grouse about technology making golf courses obsolete, they ultimately don't have much of a say. Their complaints seem to fall on deaf ears.
I happen to believe we need to cap or rein in technology (if for no other reason than to quell this distance obsession), but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. The best path to effective change may be to remain silent and allow the equipment manufacturers and USGA to shoot themselves in the foot.
When enough audiences turn off the television because they're tired of watching the pros play pitch-and-putt on our heralded courses, when millions refuse to tune in to view another middle-of-the-road pro win a major because the equipment masks his relatively marginal skills, and when sponsors and advertisers then begin to get itchy and pull their support, then maybe the USGA will rethink its policy.
A few years ago Tiger Woods' influence over television ratings and sponsorship money was revolutionary. Now that the trajectory of his game and winning percentage has taken a dive (while he's playing around with new equipment in order to, ironically, keep up with a field he used to lap), how long before those ratings and sponsor money follow his decline?
A consequence of all this unnecessary attention on length and distance is that architects and owners may begin to impose long, muscular golf courses onto properties.
Approaching a project with preconceived numbers and yardage checklists is programmatic rather than intuitive design. This mindset jeopardizes the integrity of the creation - how can holes arise naturally from the landscape if they must bend foremost to par and distance? Many properties may not naturally accommodate 7,500 yards, and they shouldn't be forced to.
By not bending to distance demands, architects are free to concentrate on creating the best possible course given the nuances of the site. Full attention can be given to discovering the best possible routing of holes of varying length, locating ideal green sites, maximizing angles and shot choices, and creating unique putting surface contour and punishing hazards instead of getting caught up in pure numbers and trying to find those 500 extra championship yards.
The risk of chasing distance is that it threatens to alienate both the site from the course and those that will play ultimately on it. It's a misguided trend that mirrors election year politics, in which candidates often ignore the constituents they have in favor or catering to the constituents they want.
Golf is better served when individual, unique courses are built that reflect their region and playing clientele. Golf needs more smallish, accessible courses that serve their communities rather than monstrous, ambitious courses that try to please only a few. Courses that architect Mike Dasher is building around Orlando like Highlands Reserve and Eagle Dunes, courses like Twin Bridges in Gadsden, Ala., or Saddleback north of Denver.
Naturally there will be owners that want and are willing to pay an architect to design an 8,000-yard course (the newest course on the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Florence, Ala., will measure this distance). That's fine. But architects are not required to cooperate in the process of making courses longer if they don't want to. They need not get caught up in the inflation. They can say no.
And for that matter so can everyone else. Let's just see what happens if we don't panic. Let's see what happens if we maintain championship distances where they've been.
Let's all just calm down and don't believe the hype.
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!