Bifurcation? B.S.

USGA Anchoring Ban Explained

I just read a story (a review, actually) about The Golf Channel’s ‘State of the Game’ program that aired last weekend. It featured Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo talking about what ails golf.

They spent a good amount of time talking about anchored putting and then bifurcation: creating two sets of rules for golf, one for pros and one for the rest of the hacker world, because the two games are ‘just so far apart’.

Nonsense. Bifurcation isn’t needed. Common sense is. Anchored putting shouldn’t even be a point of discussion, as there are more relevant issues.

The USGA needs to roll back distances on clubs and the balls for everyone, starting right now. Let’s get realistic again about amount of land a golf course requires, and the maintenance costs, and the time and expense it takes to play the game.

Each and every one of those issues is hurting golf far more than anchoring, and they all go back to the same root cause: distance.

The USGA lost control of the game when they didn’t tell the manufacturer’s ‘no’ and let the ball fly too far. Sorry, Mike Davis: anchored putting isn’t even on the same planet as that monumental screw up. But the mistake can be rectified in one fell swoop with a bit of courage, and it would solve a whole series of problems for the game.

The equipment companies can introduce — then phase in over the next couple of years — a brand new batch of conforming clubs and balls to be used by all players of every level, all under one set of rules. (That would be a great way for the “golf economy” to grow instantly, too!)

Those new clubs and balls could be designed so that the clumsy hacker-ams would still get a bit of extra flight out of their slow-mo slash-swings, while concurrently reducing the overblown distance benefits gained by high-speed, top-level world-class players.

Superior strength and athleticism are part of the game and should be; it’s a sport, for crying out loud. So let’s not go too far with that “everything should be somewhat equal for everyone” schtick. If you are old, broken, lack hand-eye coordination, can’t touch your toes, drink to excess and never exercise ever, you SHOULD stink. Stop blaming the gifted players or the equipment for your own lack of talent. (Candidly, that’s an issue facing most of America in every walk, but that’s another article all together.)

At the same time, science, technology and manufacturing can level out the game just enough to benefit the sport as a whole, to grow participation. Help the ‘physically non-athletic’ get the ball airborne and flying somewhat toward the hole just well enough to keep them hooked on golf as a recreational endeavor, but not so much that it affects the results of any type of competition.

The overtly-manufactured-length-through-science built up over the last 15 years doesn’t help the game of golf in any way: not for me, not for tour players, not for players who truly stink. Cripes, I hit it 280 yards when I was 20 years old; now I’m 48 and I hit it 300. That’s just stupid.

In all reality, the game would be exactly the same if any young, strong PGA Tour player maxed out his driver at 250 yards on a solid strike. There is no benefit to the underlying way the sport is played by having the ball fly any further than those 250 yards: it’s not more fun, it’s not more interesting, it’s not more exciting for TV. The extra 50 yards are totally irrelevant to the crux of the game, yet those extra 50 have exploded the costs for course owners, supers and developers.

Let’s use the science behind the ball and the COR on clubs so that a hacker’s well-connected drive flies 215-220 yards vs. that tour player’s 250. Balance it. It keeps that less-talented golfer interested in playing the game, the hacker feels as if he’s not really that far away from the quality of the tour player (ha!) since he’s only 30-35 yards behind him, and only one set of rules is required to keep the game rolling on for everyone.

If the hacker-am doesn’t want to purchase any of this new-fangled conforming equipment, no worries! That guy doesn’t play tournament golf anyway, and it doesn’t matter if he shoots 110 or 100 with his old ‘hot’ equipment. He can play with a shovel and a ball of twine for all it matters. To him, golf is about beer, cart races, and catching a few rays; the conforming requirements of the clubs and balls simply don’t matter. So it shouldn’t matter to the USGA either. Why create a separate rule book just for a guy who picks up every putt inside 4 feet anyway?

Common sense says that recreational activities can’t revolve around an all-day gig that costs $75+ every time out. There is no sport in existence that can grow in popularity under those conditions. But a three-and-a-half hour, $25, fun golf experience? Out in the sunshine, in a natural setting, with a competitive element for those who are interested in such things? Anyone can sell that product all day long.

Golf needs to return to the idea that it is a game about making a score, even for a high handicapper. The game should be more about strategy and execution and recovery and putting, and much less about the latest Rocketballz driver and klutzes flying it 275 in the air (which is just wrong in and of itself).

Look at the 310-yard tenth hole at Riviera last week in the L.A. Open as proof that golf is fun and challenging and interesting even at well-conceived holes of a very short length. Even for the best players in the world.

Rolling back the distance equates to shorter courses that cost less money to maintain — and in turn, cost less to play. As an additional benefit, shorter courses take far less time to play. And those kinds of changes are the only way the game of golf stays in existence long-term.

Golf course designers (and re-designers) should work to put much more strategy back into the game: toss around some high grasses and doglegs and bunkers and wetlands, and significantly limit smash-mouth golf hole-after-hole. Make me figure it out; don’t give me the option of bomb and gouge on 14 holes.

The current predicament of the game is as much the fault of golf course builders and architects as it is the equipment companies. Wide-open ruler-straight holes that run through giant corridors make 300+ yard drives desirable. Tight, treacherous, dangerous designs (not always tree-lined redundancies, either!) mean a hole can be 350 yards and still just as much fun to play to both a seasoned tournament player and to a less-talented hacker-am. But a 490-yard par-4 takes the hacker-am an eternity to play.

That’s what the USGA, the R&A, the PGA of America, the First Tee, and all of the Tours of the world should focus on right now, instead of anchoring and bifurcation: bring distances back to reality across the board and build/re-build shorter courses that require strategy, touch and execution so that everyone is playing the same game — even if the talent level isn’t the same. Then bifurcation isn’t even a topic.

Personally, I’d rather play a challenging shorter course (or even a par-3 course!) that’s interesting in design, in really good shape, costs a reasonable amount, and let’s me be home in time for lunch with the kids after a Saturday morning nassau than bombing drives on some big-ass golf ranch that costs me $120 to play.

I can play for $20 a side at either place. No need for bifurcation on that concept.


(P.S. — Anchor your putter to your forehead for all I care: it’s not an advantage. And it’s certainly not a reason for creating two sets of rules.)


  1. Avatar
    February 26, 2013

    20 years ago, I could play Sleepy Hollow in about 4 hours on any day of the week. Today, almost 6 hours for 18 holes is the norm. This change has absolutely nothing to do with added distance to the course…actually, the layout is almost unchanged in 20 years. The problem is management. On any given day, you will see far too many people with 25 handicaps playing from the blue tees, others who do not understand the concept of ‘ready’ golf, and countless Jim Furyk imitations are present on the putting greens. Golf course management does nothing to police this drawback.

    Al – some good points in your article, but club design and golf course distances do not have much to do with the ‘real’ issue.

    Personally, I don’t see why anyone would attribute cost as a factor. $52 for Sleepy Hollow during prime time is not expensive. Maybe Fowler’s Mill or Little Mountain are expensive, but those courses are the exception. I would venture a nice amount that many people who complain about the cost of golf and stay away from the game also spend $200 every Sunday to watch the Browns go 5-11 indefinitely. To each their own.

    As for the anchoring rule…golfers either focus or fold under pressure. Those who folded started anchoring to stop the nerves. Ban them!

    • Allen Freeman
      February 26, 2013

      This article is about bifurcation, a discussion brought on by the debate over anchored putter use, which is suddenly charged up like it could be the death knell of the game.

      My point is that anchoring/bifurcation is a dumb distraction, and the cost (which has increased because of added course length) and the time it takes to play (because courses are longer and because people do what they see on TV, as you say) are issues far more important. I tweaked a couple words in my article to make that more clear.

      P.S. Sleepy has added several new back tees over the last 20 years.

  2. Avatar
    February 26, 2013

    Some excellent points Al, those are things I’ve talked about for years. I always find it funny how golfers say anchoring the putter is not the way the game is supposed to be played but having clubs and balls that help you hit the ball straighter and farther than you should be able to is ok. A lot of hypocrisy. Too many people make golf out to be more than what it is, it’s just a game to be played and enjoyed. Hey MT, I’m yes on anchoring, lol!!!!

  3. Avatar
    February 25, 2013

    Some good points Al. Although game is still won from 100 yds in.
    Get your vote counter out, would be interesting to see results. I am NO on anchoring!

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