Arnies New Greens Mean More Than Tough Putts


Were doing this to challenge these great players.

As he so often does, this weeks tournament host punctuated his paragraph with an easy smile. But Arnold Palmers familiar grin belies the seriousness of a problem he sees with the game. Its a problem he sees as so serious, he had to take action himself.

Since the last Bay Hill Invitational, Arnold Palmer has seen to it that all the greens on his golf course in Orlando have been toned, tightened and toughened. A firmer, closer-knit turf that putts more like bentgrass has been installed, as well as new undulations on many greens on the back nine. (One caddie said theres an out-and-out hogsback on 15.)

A momentary controversy developed as Palmer denied that the approaches to the greens were watered, which would put players between a rock and a wet place as they tried to fly the damp approaches and land on the fronts of the hard greens. Whispers of a single-digit-below-par winning score circulated. (It would be the first since Ben Crenshaw won with 8-under in 1993.)

Maybe itll happen, maybe it wont. Palmer knows that higher scores at his event wont change golf.

But he also knows the power of the example he sets. He has spoken forthrightly and often about his belief that at least for elite players, the distance a golf ball flies should be limited. He sees a decline in creativity and shotmaking in golf because of the advent of the professional power game.

By making bouncier greens, Palmer hopes to show the world how much more of a challenge professional golf can be compared with the driver-wedge nature of some par-4s.

Many people respect Palmers opinion. But ' and I mean no disrespect here ' it doesnt really matter whether Arnie is right or wrong on this one. What really matters is that he felt compelled to make his point by making harder greens.

This year alone, we have heard PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem say he may have to make special rules for his tour if the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews cant settle their disharmony on the issue of spring-like effect off the face of drivers. We have also heard Masters Chairman Hootie Johnson propose the idea of a uniform ball for his tournament, now that the course has been lengthened as much as the real estate will allow.

Callaway Golf, the most famous introducer of a non-conforming club, the ERC II, has been using its considerable media power to advocate two sets of golf rules ' one for the elite players whose long drives the USGA fears, and another for recreational players whose skills pose no threat to even short courses.

Hours before I wrote this, I received a spiffy, 13-page proposal for bifurcated rules from an avid golfer who has clearly thought this matter through. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, youve got to hand it to him for taking the time.

Add Palmers firmer greens to the chorus of calls from the ruled for new rulemaking. And while it must be recognized that these matters arent easy to harmonize, the question still arises: Whats the holdup?

And how long can golfs credibility withstand the effects of ambiguity in the rules?