Technology is part of the game. Ben Hogan played with better clubs that Gene Sarazen. Jack Nicklaus played with better clubs than Hogan and Tiger Woods certainly plays with superior equipment than Nicklaus.
Gone from my bag are the one, two, three, and now even the four-iron. I have played with persimmon and laminated woods, aluminum and fiberglass shafts, and balata balls that could be irrevocably damaged with one mishit. The heads on my wood and irons, regardless of the materials, were much smaller with no offset. The club covers were smaller and were either knit or vinyl. Now they are huge and apt to be personalized in a playful way as well. Some have magnets while others have zippers. There are even golf tees that today are engineered to eliminate spin and drag.
The putters today seldom resemble the smaller flange, mallet or bull’s eye models that were so popular when I was younger. Exotic shapes and materials are the norm for putters, not the exception. As for the long and belly putters, while I was loner playing the long one for nearly twenty-five years, now a number of professionals rely on these longer putters.
So what hasn’t changed? My wedges really haven’t changed much. While I usually have three or four now instead of two , (that might include a 60 and 64 degree version when 56 used to be the norm), the shape and design really hasn’t changed that much. That is even more true when you consider that the USGA is going back to less spinning groove. The wedge that Gene Sarazen popularized in the late 20’s has pretty much endured without significant change. Sure, we have more choices of bounce and loft customized for whatever conditions we might face, but the concept remains intact.
An old short game master such as the late Paul Runyan would askew such a variety of wedges. He was a magician with the wedge and could manufacture any type of shot with a simple 56-degree club. He was amazing to watch.
So are things really better? I’m not too sure, but what’s in my bag is quite different. Golf is still an extremely difficult game for the vast majority of us. To really take advantage of the today’s equipment, one must still make contact with the ball. Speaking of the ball, it simply goes too far. The distance achieved by today’s good players simply because of the ball construction, not strength or skill, has made obsolete too many wonderful golf courses at a time when the added land and resources required to keep up don’t fit in with the health and survival of the game.