Bill Pennington, the New York Times “golf lifestyle” writer, has an odd beat to cover. Writing for the archetypal of-record daily, he is charged with producing golf stories that a monthly magazine could handle with much more ease and flexibility. Pennington’s audience is the active golfer, not the sports fan, so his work looks a bit odd–an island of enthusiast/participant journalism in a sea of news and commentary for the couch and clicker societies.
In putting together a recent story on the self-correcting, non-conforming Polara golf ball, Pennington gives very short shrift to the juicy antitrust lawsuit Polara filed 33 years ago against the USGA, which ended in golf’s rules-makers writing a check for $1.4 million to the company’s co-founder and then-president, Daniel Nepela. I remember speaking with USGA executive director Frank Hannigan on the day after the settlement, which the USGA actually took heart in due to certain rights ascribed to it by the court’s decision. “The only problem I encountered all day was needing to write them two checks,” said Hannigan, a reference to the fact that the USGA’s check-writing machine only went up to six digits.
After that settlement the ball was taken off the market. Quite likely the product’s overall performance weakness and the public’s lack of enthusiasm for playing a non-conforming ball would have factored very highly in future sales. Well, the construction and performance of the ball now carrying the Polara brand are certainly much improved over the 1980s version, and culturally speaking the world may be more ready for the experience of making a big, sloppy, ugly slice swing and having the ball go straight.