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Huggan column: ‘Suits’ continue to ruin our game

Too far: The 13th hole at Augusta continues to go under the knife as the traditions of the game and ball go in different directions (photo by Getty Images)

Too far: The 13th hole at Augusta continues to go under the knife as the traditions of the game and ball go in different directions (photo by Getty Images)

It would be nice to say this is the last straw. It would be nice to say that rumours of Augusta National Golf Club ‘stretching’ its iconic 13th hole – what used to be a par five but is now a drive-and-a-wedge for some – is final confirmation that golf has finally gone stark raving bonkers.

But we are way past that. If what might be the best hole in all the world is to be scarred forever, then it is simply another in a long line of outrages golf has endured because of the incompetence, arrogance and indifference of those supposedly charged with its well-being.

We are talking, of course, of The R&A and the United States Golf Association, the blue-blooded and yellow-livered administrators who long ago allowed the golf ball to get out of control, then ever since failed to do anything about the silly distances it can now travel when struck by even average pro golfers wielding grotesque, frying

pan-sized drivers. So many courses and so many holes, both great and good, have been twisted beyond recognition – all because the ‘blazers’ cannot summon up the courage to admit their past errors and address the cancer that has reduced so many truly great tracks to the equivalent of pitch-and-putt.

What makes things even worse is the understandable – if misguided – reaction to this absurd reality. Faced with the fact that the aforementioned professionals hit their drives as far as they do (most actually use drivers only sparingly these days, their 3-woods adequate to deal with courses stretched to 7,500 yards and beyond), the poor unfortunates charged with course set-ups are forced into more and more extreme measures.

Even Jack Nicklaus, a long-time critic of a ball he too deems “out of control”, seems to have given up the fight, at least when it comes to the 13th at Augusta.

“The tee shot there would be helped by a little bit of length,” says the six-time Masters champion. “Guys now take it over the top of everything, even with a 3-wood. I think with the length the guys hit the ball today, it’s easier than it needs to be. It’s not really a par five the way it is.”

Augusta National is far from alone in being ‘abandoned’ by The R&A and USGA, of course. Watch almost any professional event these days and evidence of similar outrages is everywhere.

Silly pin positions closer and close to the edges of putting surfaces. Ridiculously long rough that eliminates the remotest possibility of golf’s most exciting feature – the risky recovery shot – replaced instead by the mindless hack-out back to the fairway.

Speaking of which, nonsensically narrow fairways – bunkers located yards into the rough is the tip-off – are just another way to stop the modern siege-gunners from breaking 60 on a regular basis.

Stupidly fast greens are another feature of professional golf in the 21st century, someone somewhere having decided that slow greens are somehow both easier to putt and undesirable.

All of the above are today commonplace and all are evidence that the original designs and intents of the course architects have been lost amidst the sight of previously strategically placed hazards being deemed irrelevant by as much as 50 yards. Given that undeniable fact, perverting anything and everything is the only way to keep scores within what most would deem a sensible range. Thus, course set-ups are routinely taken closer and closer to the edge of sanity and, sometimes, beyond.

You want proof? Oh, there’s a lot to choose from. Last year at St Andrews, The Open Championship played over The Old Course – golf’s ultimate monument – was halted because tournament organisers, The R&A, claimed it was “too windy”. It wasn’t, of course. Or at least it shouldn’t have been.

Everywhere else in the Kingdom of Fife that day, golfers were happily going about their business, putting on appropriately-paced greens. But the game’s oldest, most prestigious and most important event had to stop. Because the greens were running at least two or three yards faster than they were ever intended to be. Madness.

We could go on and on. There are – sadly – literally thousands of examples across the globe. Take the Old course at Sunningdale. By any measure one of the world’s best places to play, this masterpiece has long been rendered ‘obsolete’, deemed ‘too short’ for today’s bazooka-wielding professionals.

What other sport would allow such a thing to happen?

The ultimate disgrace is obvious. Think of the benefits to the game – financial and otherwise – if the ball were hauled back to the point where The R&A started to mess with the Old Course that sits right outside their front door. Opens played there over the last 20 years or so have included tees that are actually outside the course boundaries. As became clear last year, the famous double-greens have also gone beyond their sensible limits in terms of speed. Next thing you know they’ll be building new (and offensive) bunkers on the likes of the 2nd hole, or flattening the historic undulations on the 11th green.

Somewhere, Old Tom Morris is surely fibrillating wildly in his grave.

Think too of the money that would have been saved had clubs all over the world not felt the need to extend their courses by thousands of yards.

Think too of the time that could be shaved off an 18-hole round if those courses had been left at, say, 6,600 yards rather than 7,200.

Think too of the design principles that have been lost as formerly challenging hazards and obstacles have been reduced to irrelevances by a modern ball The R&A and USGA are apparently too scared to touch.

Shame on them for the cowardice that has epitomised their so-called leadership.

They have let golf down to a degree and extent that is hard to imagine and articulate. If only the 13th at Augusta National could talk.

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