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State of Golf in 2001: Weiskopf, Palmer, Nicklaus Discuss Equipment, Balls

By David R. Holland, Contributor

Ask Tom Weiskopf, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus about the State of Golf, its equipment and hot golf balls, and just sit back and listen to what they have to say.

The trio will give you an ear full.

There's a definite consensus - it's the ball, not the equipment.

At the grand opening of Weiskopf's Catamount Ranch & Club in Steamboat Springs, CO, the 6-foot-3 former British Open champ was handed a brand new Ping TiSI driver to use on the first tee and as his eyes brightened with the first swing, he made a popular comment:

"It's not the equipment that's changing the game and shortening the courses as much as it is the golf ball. We need a tournament ball. The USGA needs to agree on one ball for the PGA Tour players to use during PGA events," he said. "Sure, these are big strong guys out there today, but the ball is allowing them to hit it too far.

"Overall the game is not much different than what is was 20 years ago," he continued. "More people are aware of the game and it is much more competitive. But I really wonder if the players are any better than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. I would say no. The best golfers today are no better than the best of 20 or 30 years ago. Equipment has had a big impact on the game and must be addressed. But should we have to change philosophy of golf-course design because of the equipment? I don't think so. I don't even like to think of Tiger Woods playing my golf courses today. And he won't unless he had an special outing here."

Arnie And The ERC II

Palmer's position about making the Callaway ERC and ERC II legal has caused quite a stir, especially since The King is sponsored by the company, plays their clubs and their ball.

"I think the club should be legal and I predict it will be," Palmer said at the grand opening of The Palmer Course at LaCantera in San Antonio. "And right now I see no problem with it being used outside of tournament golf. Golf should be fun. If this driver makes it more fun for an amateur every day, then I see no problem with it being used.

"Maybe it's not so much making it legal, but getting the USGA and the Royal & Ancient together to agree on one set of rules. This has to be done to protect the rules of the game. But the control of the game is more about golf balls than equipment.

"You know, back in the late 1920s the industry went from hickory shafts to steel, and the ball started going farther. If we still had wooden shafts today, someone would find a way to make them better. And what about the great players today? Would they still be so good if they had to use the wooden shafts? I think so," Palmer said. In 1965 Popular Mechanics magazine came to Palmer with an interesting experiment. They asked him to do a test with 1900s golf clubs, wooden shafts and forged-steel heads and play nine holes. Then also asked him to play nine holes with the current equipment.

"I three-putted the last green with my putter," Palmer remembered. "And I made a birdie with the 1900s putter. I shot a 34 with the new clubs and a 35 with the old clubs."

Nicklaus On A Summit Soapbox

And how about Mr. Nicklaus? He had plenty to say at the opening of his newest Colorado design, The Summit at Cordillera.

"You would be hard pressed to find 200 golf courses in the country today that could host a tournament event because of the length of today's golf ball," said Nicklaus, winner of 18 majors. "And that's out of more than 17,000 golf courses in the USA today."

So how about The Summit Course at Cordillera, that's situated at a hefty 7,530 from the back tees? "If we wanted to have an event up here (9,200-feet elevation, 20-percent boost in carry) and have the length to challenge the pros, we would have to make this golf course 8,000 yards and we could do that in about five minues with a Weed Eater," Nicklaus said. "It's ridiculous. This golf course right here becomes obsolete next year - as soon as they bring out the next ball.

"If the technology keeps getting more sophisticated with the golf balls, we'll reach the point where we have to tee off at the hotel instead of the first tee," he said. "The game today has gone to a power game. You have to hit it long or you have no chance."

Power golf was the game Nicklaus knew well, but he said: "You still had to play golf. It was called golfing your ball and I won two British Opens at St. Andrews when the bunkers were in play. For Tiger Woods and 20 other top players last year at The Open, those bunkers weren't in play. And the ball is the biggest reason. I can't believe that it will stay out of hand very much longer."

So what can be done?

"If you take the golf ball back 10 percent, we've got thousands of marvelous golf courses that would challenge any golfer at any level," he said. "Perhaps the golf-course owners, especially corporations that own multiple courses, should get involved and begin to lobby the USGA that something must be done to harness golf balls. Maybe each manufacturer could be asked to make a less hot ball that would be used for tour events only.

"Tiger is still going to hit it 30 yards past whoever he hits it now 30 yards past. He's still going to be the longest, but I don't think anything else has to change, except for tournament play. I think the average golfer needs all the technology he can get.

"Make the change just for tournament golf because the PGA Tour should include strategy not just power. The USGA probably is afraid of legal repercussions and I think the tour is afraid to harness the ball because they have so much pressure from ball manufacturers. That's where the golf course owners come into the picture - they have to lobby the USGA or more and more golf-course owners will continue to lengthen their courses to keep up with the technology."

By the way, Nicklaus fired a 4-under-par 68 at The Summit's Grand Opening, and he teed off on No. 1 with a 1977 replica of a 9-degree, 43-inch driver he used to win several tournaments. He hit it one time, autographed it for club officials and went back to the current technology for the rest of the day.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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