Three-time US Open champion Hale Irwin is the latest high-profile name to call on golf’s governing bodies to more tightly regulate golf ball technology.
Speaking to the latest edition of bunkered (issue 175), the 74-year-old American pinpointed the advances in technology as the biggest changes the game has seen since he was in his pomp in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to Irwin, that has “changed the game immeasurably” and, unless tighter manufacturing restrictions are introduced, he fears for the future of some of the sport’s most revered courses.
“I think the ball in this day and age, in its superior flight pattern, has necessitated the driving clubs to be bigger,” said Irwin. “There’s now more forgiving clubs, certainly in the irons and all the technical improvements that have come about. You could go back years and say, ‘Well, look, we moved from wooden shafts to steel’ so I think you can see an evolution through time.
“What has happened, though, is that the players of yesteryear played the game, while the game now is predominantly played in the air and based on how far can you hit it. I think that’s the one thing that almost all the players, certainly of my age and perhaps a little younger will admit to, the fact that the game is different and you think more about how far it goes than what shots you need to play.
“Frankly, the ball just doesn’t curve as much. Can you imagine what Seve would have done if he had today’s equipment? I do think that, at some point, the governing bodies need to wrap their arms around getting the golf ball back. If they can take even 5% off the distance that the ball travels, it would help.”
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Irwin, who won the US Open in 1974, 1979 and 1990, and was runner-up in the 1983 Open at Royal Birkdale, is by far from the first golf legend to call for tougher regulations on technology.
Ahead of this year’s Masters, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus both came out in support of placing limits on the golf ball,
Player cautioned that golf courses like St Andrews and Augusta National “will be completely obsolete” without change, whilst Nicklaus called the modern golf ball “ridiculous”.
Irwin, it seems, agrees.
“There are courses that have been there for hundreds of years that are struggling to host professional events as they can’t possibly lengthen the course because they have nowhere to go,” he added. “Some of the great golf courses in this country and around the world, because of their age and distinctive qualities, can’t stretch it out.
“Are you really making a better golf course when you make it 7,800 yards versus 7,200 yards? For me that’s not the case.
“The great traditions that Scotland carries with its immense links courses, all of those wonderful courses, how do they keep up if the game keeps getting longer? They can’t if we continue with the ball going as far as it does. The tactically placed bunkers on all these amazing courses become redundant as players today can just knock it right over them, so I think we really have to address distance.
“The R&A and USGA need to re-examine and come up with something different to what we have now.”
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