Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Thoughts from the Open

I went to the last practice day at the Open; people had said how much better it was than a competition day, how the players were more relaxed and approachable. There was also to be a four hole match for about 25 past champions.

But then the summer weather came: the wind was up to 50mph and it poured with rain. They cancelled the four hole match (although when it was due to start, things were back to normal) and very few players went out – the only ones I saw were Cink, Havret and a very relaxed Ernie Els strolling down the 16th fairway, hitting the odd shot, as though this was natural S African weather. I wondered what the other players were up to? Post-Tiger’s news, you can have a guess, but I’m sure not all of them. It must be a weird feeling to have travelled to a wind and rain swept small town, to be unable to practice, to know that the next day was the start of one of the most important days of the year and yet to have nothing to do.

It was good to be able to walk the course – because so little was happening they let people onto some of the tees and fairways – and to test my new wet weather gear. But the highlight was the merchandise tent, partly because it was dry (as was the Bollinger tent which surprisingly had seats to spare) but also because of Rhod McEwan’s golf book stand. I bought a fascinating book, “St Andrews: The Evolution of the Old Course” which I’ve just finished. The sub title is the impact on golf of time, tradition and technology and shows how the course, its layout, maintenance, length and design, have been changed over the years to deal with new equipment and the impact both have had on scoring.

Some facts about Opens at St Andrews:
Extra yardage made the average score per hole increase between 2000 and 2005. But the average score for the 10 longest hitters was lower on those holes: lengthening the holes made it easier.
Maintenance costs for the 2005 Open were 7 times those of 1904, after taking account of inflation.
The number of eagles in 2005 was 39, in 2000 29, in 1990 20.

We’re perhaps lucky at Bamburgh that we’ve been able to keep the traditional layout and length because the wind, the terrain and the gorse combine to keep it more than just a test of distance – although just as with St Andrews the course is very different today than 50 years ago - but the balance of providing a proper test and enjoyment is not easy and continued equipment improvement will impact us one day.

Having said that, better equipment doesn’t always mean a better game: Jack Nicklaus is quoted:
“Amateurs can’t make a ball respond. Things that are designed today are designed for the good player to hit. Because spin rates on the golf ball are so low, the golf ball won’t stay in the air when mis-hit (as most amateurs do)., so they have not only lost the yards they gained from equipment improvement they lose 20-30 yards going the other way. How can you improve that? You can’t! The good player hits it in the rear end every time and gets the good result – the extra 50 yards. No wonder they tear apart the golf course. But the average golfer can’t play it...”

How true.

They will have to bring in a competition ball for pros sometime.

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