The Real Reason Scores Are Low

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Mark Calcavecchia sets a record for lowest 72-hole score at the Phoenix Open. Joe Durant sets a record for lowest 90-hole score at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. What in the name of Bobby Jones is happening with these absurdly low numbers that the lads have been shooting this year?
 
Well, youve read all the stories. Yes, the players are getting bigger. Yes, the players are becoming more fit. Yes, clubs are getting better. And yes, so are the balls.
 
But something else deserves as much mention for this carnage on the golf courses as any of these. Put simply, its this: the courses themselves are so much better. They are playing grass palaces, for goodness sakes ' 200 acres of beauty, all lush green with a finely mown surface, cut down to a precise measurement that is so much more definitive than the old courses were.
 
The course owners are very proud of their acreage, manicured to perfection. But theyve got to understand that these museums they are playing on are going to serve some very low scores. Nary a weed anywhere, the turf looks like an enormous blanket to the players. Lovely to look at, but when they start shredding it with all those birdies and eagles, the powers-that-be had better be understanding. The host got what he wanted ' golf played on top of a perfect cake ' but he had better be ready to accept the record-breaking consequences.
 
Arnold D. Palmer was one of those gentlemen this week. He is the proprietor, of course, of Bay Hill, site of the Bay Hill Invitational Presented by Cooper Tires. He also knows quite a bit about golf courses, since he was playing the Tour back in the 50s. He looks out at his golf course and he sees the velvet that passes for greens and fairways now. And he saw the ruts and weeds he had to play on 40-50 years ago. There is no comparison now, not even one.
 
Thank you! Palmer said to a questioner when asked about agronomys effect on todays low scoring. And I mean that sincerely.
 
You know, we talk about equipment and talk about all the other things that are making scoring better, said Arnie, now 71 years old. I can tell you that you walk out on the golf course ' and any golf course that we play today. The conditions are absolutely perfect. You couldnt ask for any better playing conditions.
 
Palmer remembered a little example. The 72-hole record before Calcavecchia destroyed a pretty good Phoenix course was set Mike Souchak at the Texas Open 46 years ago. Palmer was there for that tournament. The conditions, he said, were deplorable.
 
I started walking in that tournament and I was 5-10 and inches, he said. But when I finished, I was over six feet tall. My feet swelled up so I was taller than when I started. So conditions in those days were nowhere near what they are today.
 
In other words, courses that you call dog tracks today were the norm for a tournament course 50 years ago. Dog tracks, goat pastures - all the words that you use today to describe a dog-eared, chewed-up track ' those courses were in fairly good condition for the times. But they all pass for decent rough nowadays.
 
Look at the advantages Palmers Bay Hill greenskeeping staff have given him today. There is absolutely no need to scoot the ball around in the fairway. There are no thin spots. The ball sits up atop the grass blades perfectly. The golfer feels like he can hit a perfect shot every time ' and he does. It a short iron is called for and he wants to spin it, he can.
 
You could spin it in the old days ' occasionally. The ball would sit up on some shots and settle down on some shots. On the greens today, there never is a putt that must roll over a thin area. The player strokes it and the only thing that will move is it the natural contours of the land.
 
The players know the condition of the course isnt going to be a negative factor. Palmer has the mowers set at 3/8 of an inch for the fairways ' thats less than half an inch. They are mown perfectly. The greens mowers are set on the bottom of the reels ' thats as low as you can get them. The tri-plex mower, a fairly recent invention, has the grass carpet as low as it can go.
 
The fact is, everyone can reach pins, regardless of the location, if the wind doesnt blow. No course exists that can hide the hole from an aggressive player. The precision instrument that passes for a golf club, if wielded by a good player, and get the ball in the nearby vicinity of the hole ' IF the turf has the ball sitting up when the golfer strikes it.
 
Course agronomy today has every bit as much effect on scores as clubs and balls. You want high scores? Let your course go to weeds. You want low scores? Manicure it perfectly. And I do mean perfectly.