Ball wars: Can golf learn from squash?

The ball is going too far. Should we take a leaf out of squash's play book?

TONY JACKLIN has become the latest influential figure to suggest the modern golf ball needs to be capped.

The former Open and US Open champion, who is now based in Florida, joins the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in claiming the modern golf ball flies too far and his suggested solution would certainly do a great deal to enhance the challenge offered by many of the courses featuring on our list of Top 100 Courses in GB for under £50.

The list makes interesting reading but I could not help but notice that very few of the courses featured could ever be asked to stage a modern tour or elite amateur event.

The simple reason is most are not long enough to cope with the distance leading players now hit the golf ball and that is a huge shame because the likes of Royal St David’s, Silloth, Seacroft, Boat of Garten (to name but a few) are wonderful places to play and much more fun than many of the soulless 7,800-yard monstrosities that have sprung up recently.

Jacklin’s preferred option would be for all golf balls to be capped but doubts the R&A and the USGA have the appetite to introduce the necessary legislation so has come up with a compromise which he has already talked to some of the manufacturers about.

The Englishman wants the manufacturers to start making different balls for different occasions and cites squash as a sport in which a similar system has already been introduced with considerable success.

In squash there are four balls – the super-slow (double yellow dot) ball is the official competition ball, the slow ball (white or green) is often used by experienced amateurs while the medium (red) and fast (blue) balls are recommended for recreational players. 

It would be possible for the golf authorities to adapt a similar system but that seems highly unlikely given their much-publicised resistance to bifurcation (the concept of the professional using different equipment to amateurs). 

However, there is another option and that is to introduce a colour-code system which is based on the length of course to be played rather than the standard of player involved. 

Jacklin himself has no doubt that it must happen and happen soon. “The situation is becoming more and more ridiculous,” he said. In this scenario, all golfers, irrespective of their ability level, would use a slow ball (which travels a maximum of 220 yards) on courses up to 6,500 yards, a medium ball (which can be hit no further than 250 yards) for courses of between 6,500-7,000 yard and the existing modern ball for any course longer than that.

There are a number of obvious problems arising from this compromise solution, not the least of which would be the need to rewrite the rules governing Standard Scratch Score. 

Balls would also have to be clearly marked to ensure the rules were not broken but that should not be insurmountable either.

The arguments in favour of some sort of cap (be it a total cap or a compromise) are much more compelling.

Golf developers would save a great deal of money because they would be able to build challenging courses measuring 6,500 yards instead of 7,500 yards and existing clubs would also gain because they would not have to go to the expense of building new back tees and replacing outdated bunkers.

More beneficial still is that we would be able to return to playing our traditional courses in the manner which their original architects envisaged they would be played.

I had a taste of how much fun that can be when I played Royal Cinque Ports using hickory clubs. I am not suggesting for a second that we should all revert to using 19th-century technology but, like Jacklin, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player and a host of other commentators, I do believe everything is out of kilter at present and suggest the best way to sort it would be to cap the distance a ball can travel.

Jacklin himself has no doubt that it must happen and happen soon.       

“The situation is becoming more and more ridiculous,” he told me over the phone.    
“Golf is the only game I know which can no longer be played on the same arena it was 100 years ago. Many of the best of our traditional courses have been rendered all but obsolete and that is very sad.”

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