David Feherty and The A Position Answer The Question: What Would You Change About Golf?

Here’s what our experts– including  CBS golf analyst David Feherty– had to say. Now we want to hear your suggestions!

How can golf be better? In the new “A List,” the experts at The A Position–plus guest opinionator David Feherty of CBS Sports– suggest ways to make the game more fun and more user-friendly.  We’d also like to hear from you!  To present your own ideas on how to improve golf, go to the bottom of the page and click on “comments.”   Perhaps a USGA official, course owner, or that annoying slow player in your Saturday foursome will notice, and implement some changes.  And golfers everywhere will benefit.

I’d make the ball bigger. I’ve been saying it for years, but unfortunately no one takes me seriously, which I suppose is my own fault. But if the ball were say 1.71″ (an odd number for an odd game) instead of 1.68″, it would, with one swing of the club, bring all of our old golf courses back to relevance with no need for lawsuits against equipment manufacturers. Also, the “trampoline effect” could go back to being a twisted ankle and the R&A and the USGA could go back to sleep. A ball with only a tiny percentage more surface area is exponentially (and I don’t even know what that word means) affected both in the distance it travels and by how difficult it is to keep straight. We already know this from the change to the now standard American 1.68″ from the smaller 1.62″ British version, which was optional over there until the early ‘70s. Finally, a bigger ball actually helps amateur golfers in the one area they need it most—around the greens. It’s not rocket science: the bastard is just bigger, so it sits up better. I know, I’m a genius.

—David Feherty

I would change golf’s delusional attitude about itself, that, for example, adherence to its rules and a working knowledge of its long heritage actually make us better men and women. Here’s another variation on that theme: that golf instills the values that help successful, honorable people not just get through life but excel. As my British brethren would say, “What utter rot.” Neither of these assertions is supported by facts on the ground. All of us know honorable, successful people who play golf, follow the rules, achieve vocational success, and enjoy strong marriages, and all of us know golfers who never play out of turn, who can tell us who won the 1924 U.S. Amateur, and who are complete assholes. See “Woods, Tiger” and his infamous moral compass. The whole campaign strikes me as, well, a campaign—a sort of industry effort to burnish the image and grow the “brand.” We play golf because it’s fun. It’s a challenge. It’s social. It can be competitive. It can even be pretty good exercise. But that’s it. It’s not a metaphor for anything.

—Hal Phillips, halphillips.net

As the new benevolent despot of golf, I’d speed the game up. Do you enjoy watching the people in front of you listlessly chat, laboriously study their shots, or walk around lethargically? Slow and “stop and start” play makes it more difficult to maintain a rhythm and keep one’s concentration or focus. And do you think that today’s generation, bred on instant gratification, wants to stand or sit idly tolerating slow play? Under those conditions don’t count on them to grow the game. Slow play means higher green fees for everyone, as there are fewer rounds per course per day. That is lost revenue never recovered and equates to less total income. This forces operators to increase prices and some (more every day) to go out of business, hurting longer term accessibility. Slow play is a late-stage cancer that is killing the game!

—Bob Fagan, robertfagan.com

We take it for granted that golf courses should be 18 holes, or half that, just because…well, because most are. But there is no actual reason, just a quirk of fate. The very first course, The Old Course at St. Andrews, was 22 holes for centuries, 11 per side, until a modernization—in 1764—eliminated four. That was about the time other people began doing golf courses, looked at St. Andrews, and said, “Hmmm, 18 must be right.” But not all courses have 9 or 18 holes, and one of my favorites in Scotland, Shiskine, has a pleasantly random 12. Or consider par. The world’s top-ranked courses might have 18 holes, but they vary enormously in par, from 69-73, the equivalent of a full extra hole. Here’s my argument: I am never quite satisfied with a round of golf, I always want to play more, but often can’t fit in a second 18. I have a gut feeling that 20 might ease the pain of having to finish. But most of all, it’s a nice round number. One of the greatest golfers of all time, and now one of the top course designers, Greg Norman, recently argued in favor of the development of six-hole courses because one of the reasons golf is losing players is a round takes too long, and six holes would be much faster. I’m not sure I agree, but I do know we need to think outside the box and get it out of our heads that 18 holes is a rule. It’s not. I checked.

—Larry Olmsted, larrygolfstheworld.com

Eliminate irrigated rough. Other than the fact that we all hate playing out of it, few things say excess, vanity, and waste—in other words, what’s put golf on the brink of bankruptcy—like the expenditure of labor, fertilizer, and precious water to maintain acres of lush, green rough. Golf courses could reduce their maintenance budgets and improve both their playability and aesthetics by turning off the sprinklers. Most could mow the fairways out wider than they already do (to enhance driving strategy and give players more room) and simply forget about what’s leftover. Letting the perimeter of holes go au naturel makes the game more intriguing by creating randomness (you get both perfect and unplayable lies), allows the course to blend into the surrounding environment, helps reintroduces whatever wildlife existed before in the area, and, most importantly, saves money. The savings might even be passed down to you.

—Derek Duncan, theduncanlist.com

I am taking a deserved whack at the sport’s governing body, the United States Golf Association. While I’m sure it sees itself as the game’s perfect guardian, it is time for the USGA to brush the collective dandruff off its blue blazers and reconstitute its hierarchical organization. To my knowledge, there are no public golfers on the USGA’s 15-member Executive Board. Think about that. Public golfers account for well over 80% of the rounds played each year in the U.S., and yet every honcho at the USGA is a private club member. Yes, the USGA conducts valuable turfgrass research. And current president Jim Hyler is an advocate of sustainable golf courses. But despite its alleged support of junior golf, this well-capitalized organization has done virtually nothing to grow the game by making it more affordable or accessible to greater numbers of people. It’s time for the stuffed shirts at this self-entitled association to fill half the seats on its Executive Board with public golfers. Change is good. Climbing into a bunker and covering its 116-year-old hidebound self with a “For the Good the Game” banner, as the USGA has done for decades, is not.

—Brian McCallen, brianmccallen.com

Come the revolution, there won’t be any private golf clubs! Oh sure, there are plenty of arguments made in favor of them, especially reasons that redound to better upkeep of pristine courses. I don’t buy a single damn one. I’m mainly talking U.S. private clubs, which are the most egregiously private of the private. What is gained by barring the door? Never mind that 73% of the courses in the U.S. are public; the other 27% are the reason many in this country still consider golf an elitist sport, one with a history of excluding blacks, Jews, women from its clubby confines. Even if there’s legal justification for this, what about that is humanly decent and fair? Elsewhere in the world private usually means that guests, asking nicely and showing proper decorum, are welcomed. Hell, even the highly private Muirfield allows outside play, albeit only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If it’s good enough for the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, it should be good enough for anybody. Yet now American entrepreneurs have opened courses in Scotland and Ireland that have imported the American notion of private private courses. If ever there were an idea whose time should never have come, this is it. And come the revolution, it will go!

—Tom Bedell, tombedell.com

To answer this question requires a long, sweeping recollection of decades spent playing the ancient game and pondering its wonders. That takes in a lot—old friendships formed along the fairways, landscapes brimming with natural beauty and human artistry, the self-understanding that even a single day on the links can impart. Those virtues kindle in me a nearly unchecked appreciation and acceptance of golf’s grand pageant. Not much can “go wrong,” for this player, among the noble acreage that any well-made course provides. Still, one defect gnaws persistently. It is the rules-makers and their galling Decision in the matter of Turf Raised by Underground Pipe. Reader, if your head is nodding, you know precisely where I’m going with this protest. A man’s blood can rise merely citing it: “Concerning a water pipe [that] is partly underground and partly above ground, [in] areas where the pipe is underground [and] has raised the turf, the turf that has been raised by an obstruction is not considered part of the obstruction.” Read that over several times, if you can bear the infuriation. Does Rule 24, Decision 14 blacken my mood every time I get ready to hit off the first tee on a sunlit morning? No, but the truth of it is always there, providing that one, single, irritating “good-walk-spoiler” that has compromised years of enjoyment. Golf gods, or golf mortals, or some party with an unclouded eye for justice, see fit it to provide a remedy—that one man’s pleasure could thus be deeply enriched.

—David Gould, davidlgould.com

Mandatory carts should be put out of their—and our—misery. Invented in the 1940s as a remarkable solution for disabled golfers’ continued enjoyment of the game, cart use has somehow evolved into compulsory convenience, laziness, revenue streams…and a scourge to the landscape. Here’s what’s been fashioned:  Just this month, gaping expressions of shock followed the announcement that my group would not use proffered carts during a Junior/Mentor 9-hole event.  Protests followed. “My knees hurt!” “I’m tired!” “That’s too much walking!” “We’re supposed to take them!”  And these were from the juniors! Golf must become more sustainable, including concerns for health and environmental safety. Carts and cart-paths use petroleum products, a skyrocketing expense which will soon make golf even less affordable for the average player than it already is. A Florida retiree filed civil lawsuits against municipal courses with mandatory cart rules citing constitutional rights trumping policies preventing walking. I hope he wins.

–Janina Jacobs, janinajacobs.com

Among the changes I’d welcome in golf would be to reverse the seemingly ceaseless, unquestioned portrayal of the game as a vehicle for players to generate business. Having once accepted an assignment to write about a “business-golf consultant” and his suggestions for leveraging the commercial opportunities of golf – “Don’t bring up business-related topics for conversation until at least the 5th hole,” for example – I’m aware, of course, that the media is among the main culprits in this phenomenon. (It was interesting to note that during the flap over admitting women to Augusta National, the idea of “playing one of the world’s great courses” never figured in the debate, which centered instead on the club’s networking opportunities and the segregation thereof.) How about a round of golf as a respite from life’s pressures, economic and otherwise?

—Tom Harack, tomharack.com

If I could change one thing in golf, it would be how golfers practice. As a player and student of the game for nearly 40 years, and a professional coach and instructor for close to 20, it is no surprise to me that most golfers do not improve due to their pathetically ineffective and mindless practice habits. Example: The misnomer that is “muscle memory.” Your muscles don’t have a memory, your brain does. Your muscles cannot be trained through repetitive motion; it’s the neurons in the brain that tell the muscles what to do. Repetitive, inattentive ball banging is an utter waste of time, except for blister development. If you are not cognitively engaged (focused and thinking about what you are doing), learning cannot occur. So ditch the iPod, stop yakking, and set specific goals for your precious practice time. 20 consecutive striped balls with the same club, off a perfect lie, into a 400-yard-wide driving change is neither challenging, nor “golf course like.” Make your practice random, appropriately demanding, and seek accurate and credible feedback—all essential elements of learning.

—Christopher Smith, christophersmithgolf.com

There’s not much about this great game I’d change, but I do have one, minor pet peeve. It involves the most commonly misused word in the game of golf. That is, “golf.” Specifically, the word “golf” when used as a verb. As in: “Do you golf?” (“No, but I play golf.”) Or, “Did you golf this morning?” (“Why yes, and I think I might tennis this afternoon.”) If you’re scrambling for your dictionary, I’ll save you the trouble. Yes, Webster’s includes “golf” as an intransitive verb. But I assure you, you’ll never hear a tour professional say they “golfed a good round today.” Please don’t fret if you do this regularly and you think I’m singling you out. You are not nearly alone. I probably have more people ask me if I “golf” than ask me where something “is at”—which, having lived in the south my entire life, speaks volumes.

—Brad King, bradkingwrites.com

Imagine that you’re watching the Lakers/Celtics game on TV and Kobe gets knocked to the hardwood going down the lane leaving a puddle of sweat on the floor. And the ref insists that they play on without mopping it up. That’s basically no different than two rules of golf—the first requiring players to hit out of a divot even if they’ve driven the ball perfectly into the middle of the fairway; the second requiring play out of an unraked bunker footprint. Not just unfair, but stupid. Let’s change these rules and not punish a guy for the failure of someone else to take care of the course as he was supposed to. However, this rule change would not apply to leaving your clothes on the floor at home.

—Jeff Wallach, jeffwallach.com

If I were allowed to change one thing in golf, it would be the stuck-in-the-19th-century-mud attitude of the leadership cabal of the USGA. Let’s be clear about this. Within the first 15 words of the opening mission statement of every incoming USGA president going back decades you will find the word “Rules.” Yet you will not find the word “fun.” Why do golfers play? They play to have fun! Most people do not realize that 70% of all golfers do not have a handicap. Yet the USGA rigidly constrains the capabilities of the golf clubs that major equipment manufacturers can sell. It’s time to let non-conforming golf clubs have their place in the market. Let the regular golfer hit it looooong! Until the USGA realizes that millions play the game merely for the fun of it, golf will be doomed to a role of declining status in the roster of U.S. sports.

—Casey Alexander, caseyalexandergolf.com

In Scotland, the caddies come with history and are mostly witty when intelligible. But here in the U.S., and from what I’ve seen even more so elsewhere around the world, the majority of caddies we are forced to take aren’t worth the obligatory handshake on the 18th green. Not that they’re all bad, but the risk is far too high. More times than not I’ve either been paired with a looper who can’t help but personify a disinterested, non-golfing community college dropout, or even worse, a disinterested former mini-tour golfer filled with vile disgust at having to watch me hack my way around a course when he clearly thinks it should be he swinging the clubs that day. Sure, there are those exceptional private courses where the cream congregates, and if you want to take a caddie anyone should be free to, but no course should be able to tell me I am required to have a lesser looper ruin my round one more time. There’s a reason my foursome is made up of convivial friends and not aloof strangers.

—Jason Kerkmans, jasonkerkmans.com

If golf wants to grow, it needs more par-three courses. The game can be intimidating for a beginner, especially when played on a busy regulation course. Par-three courses help to ease the way into the game. They are perfect for kids, and even if the parents haven’t played much golf it can be a fun family outing that isn’t too hard on the pocketbook. My first golf outings, at age 12, were on a par-three course, one of several near where I lived. Later, my father took up the game in his 40s. He couldn’t play before that because of a bad back. Where did he start? A pitch-and-putt. The best places for par-three courses are attached to a driving range or to a regular course. In both cases, they are expanding their customer base. Not that much land is needed, but there don’t seem to be many par-three courses around these days. My son is now 12. He hits balls at the driving range occasionally, but is not ready for a regular course, nor has he expressed a desire to play. If there were any par-three courses in our area, I’m sure he would try that, and it might lead to more involvement with the game. But there aren’t any. I suspect that he will not become a golfer.

—David Barrett, davidhbarrett.com

Not so much a change as an erasure, deletion, defenestration. Let’s throw away the term “championship golf course.” I have no idea what it means other than that a championship is held there. Does the member-guest count? How about the climactic battle in “Caddyshack”? It is impossible to read an ad for a resort, golf community, or local muni that doesn’t use the phrase “championship course” in describing itself, thereby telling the unknowing patron nothing more than the fact that a golf course, of some kind, exists. Note: I am not saying we need strict requirements to qualify as a championship course; this is not about par, yardage, slope rating, or cost. Instead, here’s a new rule: If you’re not Oakmont, Pebble Beach, or Augusta National, don’t even consider using that descriptor—and if you are one of those, you don’t need to.

—Jim Frank, jimgolfrank.com

How about we get rid of the pretension, the puffery, the pampering? Does a golfer really have to have an “elite experience” or “V. I. P. experience” to enjoy the game? Is it absolutely necessary to be greeted at the course by a flunkie wearing a headset so that he can call us by name before whisking us over to warm up in a covered, heated bay with a stocked fridge, three video cameras, and a shoeshine boy and sports psychologist on call? Will we enter a state of higher and more exalted ego gratification if the course cost $50 million and the clubhouse is bigger than Windsor Castle? Is it possible to overdose on “prestige”? I know I’d never stamp it out entirely, but if I were the Czar of Golf, I’d be hacking away at the wretched excess and the mindset from which it springs. I’d be trying to get the game back down to earth, where it belongs.

—Stephen Goodwin, stephenhardygoodwin.com

3 Responses to “David Feherty and The A Position Answer The Question: What Would You Change About Golf?”

  1. Ed Vyeda

    Enjoyed the various takes on changing golf. You not only hit on a lot of subjects, but hopefully you hit some industry nerves here and there, as well. I had to laugh that many of my pet peeves were on the list. Apparently I am not the only grouchy golfer out here … My take: The game needs to be more fun and courses need to be easier to play. The rest might take care of itself. Cheers!

  2. David DeSmith

    I would institute the following rule change: strokes taken from on the putting surface should be counted as half shots.

    Scoring in golf is too much about putting — hence TV coverage’s over-emphasis on what’s happening on the greens at the expense of showing drives, approach shots, recovery shots, etc. For half a player’s score to be determined by his prowess with a putter, by shots made over and over ad nauseam in such close proximity to the hole, was a mistake on the part of the game’s founding father’s and one which it is our duty to correct.

    It’s true, my putting game isn’t what it used to be and I am indeed sick and tired of losing matches to guys who can’t hit it out of their shadows but can make a disproportionate share of 10-footers. But I do not suggest this for selfish reasons. The game would benefit from more emphasis being placed on full shots and less on flatstick skill, which any 8 year-old can possess (at least until he is 52).

  3. John J Mitchelol

    Bigger balls, bigger clubs, bigger cups what next legal steroids with your green fees.
    Back to the basics, moderate sized drivers, not 460cc, no rescue clubs, 3,5 fairways,
    2 to sw. Eliminate the riffraff. play it like it was always played. If you suck at it, you just suck. Lee Trevino said it all, “I score like this because it’s my job and I play every day 18 to 36 holes.”
    Oh also institute the doover.

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