State of play
Ewen Murray gives his views on the state of the game and what he would like to see happen in 2011.
Last Updated: 31/12/10 8:51am
I finally made it back from South Africa just in time for Christmas only to find that three inches of snow brings our country to a standstill.
Having been one of the many stranded abroad, I wondered how places like Alaska, Canada and Russia have managed down the years. To their credit, they have, for us, just embarrassment that it seems we are incapable of doing so.
The golfing year ended with an exhibition of brilliance from the South Africans that occupied the top four places in their national championship.
On the final day in Durban, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen traded 30 birdies and an eagle in just 34 holes, and after fine seasons, Charle Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen confirmed they are a big part of the future.
The only disappointment was Durban Country Club, a course that should not be used for the second oldest championship in our sport. Ernie's winning total of 25 under par for 70 holes confirms it is no longer a test and it could have been even more embarrassing had the course been anything close to good condition.
Six months ago, the club decided to change their greens and aprons and the result was as expected given that time span. No matter where your course is in the world, six months is never long enough to complete this task.
In South Africa, they have two great course architects in Dale Hayes and Peter Matkovitch and had they been consulted, they would have said to leave the project until after the Open. I don't know who made the decision to go ahead, I suspect the club committee, and perhaps therein lays the problem. I doubt any of them study agronomy in their time away from their office.
Durban Country Club has for many years been voted the top course in the Republic and my guess is that's because of its history and the Opens they have hosted down the decades. Having had the joy of playing in South Africa over the last 20 years, there are many wonderful new courses more than capable of hosting their Open and in doing so provide a stern challenge for those who enter it. I take nothing away from the home quartet as their golf over the four days was simply magnificent.
State of the game
James English wrote in after last week's column wondering what the state of golf is like right now. James we all have our own opinions and your question may spark a lively debate as we enter 2011. You asked for my thoughts, so here we go.
You mentioned that our youngsters still go to the USA for golf scholarships and during past years, that has proved a successful route. Paul Casey is one of these players who have come through American Universities, but it must be remembered that Paul was a product of the Foxhills Golf Club youth system, just as Ross Fisher was of Wentworth's.
My own thought here is that more of our golf clubs could do more for junior golfers.
Our schools don't have the land or facilities, but an alliance with the golf clubs could break that barrier down. Golf clubs are not as busy as they were a few years back and giving a few hours a week to our juniors would be a step in the right direction. James, you said golf is still an expensive game and we would have to look at this being subsidized.
This scheme could be perhaps funded by grants from the lottery or a levy of say five pounds from members of clubs throughout Britain. Our main enemy is the weather and I'm sure USA graduates like Richie Ramsay, Rhys Davies and Dunhill winner, Pablo Martin would agree with that. Our season is short compared with some states in the US.
In Spain and indeed France, courses have been constructed of land fill sites which I think is a marvellous idea. The land is cheap and extensive so the infrastructure can be completed as to requirements. If it were possible to build a handful of these around some of the big cities or indeed in the suburbs where the sites are then that would be a start, food for thought there. Because of the short season, indoor schools like they have in Sweden and Denmark should be looked into.
The quality of coaching has improved across the board in Britain and there are a few talented coaches who I'm sure would give their knowledge and energy to such a project either full time or otherwise. Fred Funk was the golf coach at Maryland University in his early days. Retired professionals would no doubt relish the opportunity to stay in the game albeit in a smaller capacity.
I'm not sure James if any of these suggestions would work or are viable, but the thought process has to start somewhere and maybe some of your fellow readers of this column will have much better ideas that could be investigated.
The game of professional golf continues to thrive despite the two or three year recession we have endured.
Europe has enjoyed arguably its best ever year and that is down to a culmination of things. George O'Grady has moved seamlessly into the job at Wentworth and had the vision to make the European Tour global.
Together, we are all stronger for that and we have been fortunate to retain the sponsorship from those involved in our tour for many years now. We are also able follow the sun thus enabling the tour to extend to the 50 weeks it is now played over. The graduates from the school and Challenge Tour therefore get a decent chance to secure their playing rights for the following season.
With Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer at number 1 and 3 respectively in the world rankings, they have proved that playing full time in America is not necessary to fulfill their goals. This is great news for our tour and with these players and the likes of Rory McIlroy, our Tour is more attractive to sponsors than it's ever been.
Stateside, I think the Fed-Ex Cup has done more harm than good as has the inflated prize money over the past four years. I also think the golf there is one dimensional. It's the same test every week and it produces players with much of a likeness. Their tour still has some wonderful players, but winning is not a necessity to enjoy good financial returns. I think this breeds players who find a comfort zone below their talents. When Watson, Nicklaus, Palmer, Miller and Trevino were in their prime, their aim was always to win. I'm not altogether sure the new breed has that same hunger.
Tools of the trade
On the equipment side of things, I think we have made some mistakes. The ball is too "hot" and travels about 10% further than it did say 20 years ago. Because of that, courses are built now measuring 10% longer than they were then. It also requires more land and costs more to build them and it takes longer to play them which is not good news for the father and mother of children. Tom Watson said in the recent Sky Sports magazine that he thought we should build courses with 12 holes or loops of six holes, but for me, the game is played over 18 holes.
The size of driver heads was another mistake. I'm all for technology advances within reason, but the heads, now made of various metals, should have been the same size as the old persimmon heads. The increase in size has brought the average golfer closer to the best golfers.
Another change I would like to see is the way in which the caddies line up their player. Lining up is a big part of the game and should be done by only the golfer. It is decease on the LPGA Tour and we see some of it on our tour. That rule could easily be enforced.
There are many other topics which I will have missed and I'm sure you have your own ideas, but the one thing I do know is that we are privileged to play a sport we all love. It's healthy and it's social. It's competitive and because of the handicapping system, it allows the best to play with the rest.
We move into 2011 with much to look forward to. Will Tiger return to somewhere near where he was, will Lee Westwood continue his remarkable consistency and stay at the summit of the game, will some of the world's rich young talent take a big step forward? Throughout the next 12 months we will have the answers. Like you, I'm looking forward to it. A Happy New Year to you all.