Increasing golf course length has been a hotly debated subject in golfing circles for a good while now. In most cases where this thorny subject is raised, it has little to do with practical deficiencies in course lengths in general. It is, rather, a reactionary response to the significant increases in the across-the-board shot distance players are capable of.
Increasing Golf Course Length: The Great Debate
In particular, this phenomenon affects the courses hosting professional competitions. That’s not hard to understand when you consider the towering drives and fairway shots the current crop of touring pros are delivering. And it’s certainly not only the big guns that are hitting farther either.
That increased performance has put considerable pressure on courses in general and tour courses particularly, to up their game. However, increasing golf course length is certainly not the only way to keep the game challenging and entertaining.
More importantly, it isn’t necessarily the best way of keeping courses relevant in today’s big-hitting golfing environment.
What Is Driving the Process: Caging the Tiger
It was written recently that course administrators had, in response to Tiger Woods’ astounding abilities, tried to “Tiger-proof” their courses. Unfortunately, history has proven the strategy of adding yardage to courses to have largely been a failure.
In 1980, only 6 PGA pros could get 270 yards off the tee. In this year’s PGA lineup at least 50 players are consistently capable of driving 300 yards or more.
And those are telling figures; figures that speak volumes about how golf has reacted to players generally increasing shot lengths.
And what of the increase in shot length? What is driving, excuse the pun, this process?
Increases in driving distance — part science, part magic
The factors that have influenced shot length, particularly over the last two decades, are numerous. The most obvious is, of course, club, shaft, and ball technology. Modern clubs have improved exponentially over the last 20 years and have added significant distance and accuracy to a player’s efforts.
And technology’s contribution doesn’t end with the hardware either. Simulators and the science behind golf training have also chipped in to hone the player’s abilities to hit it long.
These factors combined with the better overall physical fitness and conditioning of today’s players mean one thing — longer shots.
To Extend or Not to Extend: Is It Necessary and How Hard Is It to Achieve
If the truth be told, extending a golf course is definitely not the only way to keep it challenging. Any player can only hit the ball as far as he has can without getting into the rough or out of bounds. Making holes harder to play certainly limits even the pro’s abilities to hit huge shots.
And in many respects making holes harder to play is easier than extending them and would offer more long term benefits for players of all abilities.
Tricky holes are far more challenging to play than very long holes making this solution a serious option.
How hard is extending a golf course?
There are essentially only three ways to physically add yards to any golf hole and the course as a whole. The first is moving tee boxes back. That’s often the cheapest option that requires the least maintenance after the fact.
The second option for increasing golf course length is changing fairway geometry. If space allows, moving or adding bunkers can incorporate a dog-leg into the fairway, adding valuable distance to the hole.
All things considered, this can be the best option in terms of capital outlay and maintenance burden going forward.
Lastly, club owners can opt for moving greens. This one is a complex and expensive exercise and perhaps the least desirable way to lengthen a golf course.
How much does it cost to lengthen a golf course?
Cost is a highly subjective question, as there are so many variables and differences between courses. However, considering the initial cost of constructing greens, bunkers, and tee boxes, give a fair idea of what re-locating them would be.
Of course, having to buy additional property to make extensions is extremely expensive. In addition, longer courses require more maintenance which adds to the overall cost in the long term.
Increasing Golf Course Length: The Summary
The bottom line in this debate is this: Technology will continue to improve golfing equipment, and players will get fitter and better every year. We may see lulls in shot length increases, but increase they surely will.
There is, however, a limit to increasing golf course length beyond which we will start to compromise the integrity of the game as a whole.
Lengthening holes does have a valuable role to play in bringing older courses up to scratch. But this cannot be the de facto route to counter increases in shot length though. Working on making courses more challenging in terms of accuracy and strategy can be even more valuable in caging the tiger, especially in the long run.
If you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this subject, please use the comments box below.