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It's a Shame, but America's to Blame

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The heads of most drivers these days could be mistaken for toaster ovens. Unfortunately, these scientific marvels of graphite and titanium are not priced like toaster ovens, or else you wouldn't have to have numerals after your last name to afford one (apologies to Charles Howell III and Davis Love III).

And what's more, the gloomy Malthusian prophecy of golf ball Armageddon is upon us: the variety of balls on the market today exceeds the variety of cereals on the aisles of a typical grocery store by pie times the square root of John Daly's waist size. You'd have a better chance of picking this season's Super Bowl winner than you would a golf ball that fits your needs.

All of these advances in equipment technology were too much for golf courses to bear. This evidenced by the recent construction of our country's first 8,000-yard track. Nowadays, if a course is under 7,000 yards, it is referred to as a shotmakers' course, a thinking man's layout, or worse yet, a throwback to courses of yesteryear.

If you are a golf purist, it is a shame. But when you get right down to it, America's to blame.

Had golf never spread from the land of the kilt and the bagpipe to the land of the free and the home of the brave, we'd never have had this brew-ha-ha about equipment vs. golf course design.

We are the country that invented target golf. We are the country with destinations like Palm Springs, Las Vegas, and Scottsdale where the sun shines 364.9 days a year and the greens spend more time soaked in water than a hippo on Valium. We are the country that sells homes along golf courses, and the more golf courses you have, the more homes you can sell.

The Scottish links style never begged for a non-conforming driver or a perfectly round golf ball. What difference would it make, really?

Think about it for a second. You are playing golf at Muirfield, the Old Course, or St. Andrews Bay on a dreary, windswept summer day. You stand on the tee, staring down the nape of a fairway the size of a bowling alley. Do you really want to blow a 300-yard drive through a perfectly good landing area and into a 10-foot deep pot bunker?

That's exactly what happened to Thomas Levet on the 18th hole at Muirfield in a sudden death playoff with Ernie Els at the British Open on Sunday, and the weather (picture post card perfect on this rare occasion) wasn't even a factor. Levet hails from France, yet the way he approached that final hole was oh, so American. When toaster oven meets golf ball with super hard cover and solid core, you'll find more trouble than Allen Iverson in the offseason when playing a links style course in the motherland.

So, it's brain over brawn when toiling on a British lawn, so to speak. And Scottish Links style courses don't discriminate between clubs and balls. These glorified cow pastures laugh in the general direction of both behemoth drivers and sophisticated golf ball technology.

An approach shot through a 30 mile per hour headwind to an 8,000 square foot green with the hole cut in the back could care less if you are playing a Top Flite 3000 with extra carry, a Strata Tour 100 with extra spin or a Golden Ram that left you with extra money to spend on extra pints.

Across the pond sits the great equipment equalizer - a place where you don't have to be John Nash to pick a set of golf clubs and a dozens golf balls. Heck, Phil Mickelson even admitted to arriving in Scotland early to strip his game down to the essentials. He wanted to work on hitting the ball low, reducing the spin on his drives and approach shots, and perfecting the bump and run approach shot.

Mickelson finished 6-over and took home a check for $13,900.

Lefty was not alone. No American golfer finished in the top 10, and Scott Hoch (gasp) had the best tournament for the stars and stripes, coming in 12th and earning $122,465. Guess you can take the American out of America, but you can't take America out of the American.

But what's a Yank to do? The long courses keep coming, as do the big drivers and specialized balls. Is the cart pulling the horse or the horse the cart?

This is a question that Scottish golfers ponder for a nanosecond and dismiss faster than stale whiskey. After all, they figure, the Americans put men on the Moon and cheese inside of a hotdog. Surely they'll work their way through this conundrum.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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