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There’s been much rumbling these past few weeks about rules bifurcation (i.e. one set of rules for professionals and high level amateurs, another set of rules for club players and weekend golfers).  The discussion is typically centered around the ball but drivers and long/belly putters are also discussed.  Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee stirred the pot with this piece for Golf Digest:


“Two things have hurt the game and will continue to do so. Technology and slow play are related in that as technology has given all Tour players the ability to hit tee shots into tomorrow, courses have been stretched out and the game has become a dragged-out affair. Five- and 6-hour rounds can’t attract a new audience in a generation filled with short attention spans. One solution would lead to growth in the game, I am convinced, and simultaneously make it more interesting for Tour players and those consigned to dark corners and bad coffee whose job it is to describe the action.

The word people use to describe what I am going to suggest is bifurcation, which sounds to me like a word used to make palatable that which tends to smell. Perhaps, that’s appropriate, because when bringing up the idea of two sets of rules, most look like they have smelled something offensive. Ironically the very ones who are offended the most are the ones who talk about growing the game most fervently.

Drivers and golf balls could be scaled back on the Tour, which would allow holes to return to nostalgic lengths and records to be viewed more accurately. Amateurs could have access to bigger heads, thinner faces, longer shafts and hotter golf balls, which would allow them to at least feel some closing of the ever-widening gap between professionals and recreational golfers.”


A few weeks ago it was Ping CEO John Solheim recommending bifurcation with his 3 ball plan:


“With so many other challenges facing the game, we need to be sure any “distance discussions” focus on the long term — on solutions that can quickly and easily respond to future increases in distance (no matter the cause); on ideas that give professional events and courses a tool that allows each to best address the distance concerns unique to their venue; on proposals that recognize it is far simpler to adjust the ball to the course, than to adjust the course to the ball. Finally, we need a response that will resolve this issue once and for all. To get this discussion rolling, here is how I think we can do just that:

– Replace today’s single golf ball distance limit with three different “Ball Distance Ratings” (or “BDRs”) – one that is the same as today’s limit, one that is shorter and one that is longer.

– Adopt a “BDR Condition of Competition” — each event could apply the BDR appropriate for its course design and yardage, and for the skill level of the golfers competing at the event.

– Include BDR as a factor in calculating handicaps — just as “slope rating” or choice of tee box does today, the BDR of the ball you use will factor into your handicap.”

Personally I’m in favor of a bifurcation of the rules and here’s why:
  • I respect that 95% of golfers don’t overpower the golf courses they play.  The majority of golfers aren’t hitting wedges into 435 yard holes.  The general golfing public can continue to enjoy the forgiving, distance enhanced gear they currently use.  Weekend golfers with bad backs can keep their long and belly putters. Meanwhile the pros can play a ball that goes shorter and keep their putters unanchored to their bodies.  As long as everyone is playing the appropriate ball it becomes unnecessary to lengthen any courses.  Shorter courses play faster and the renovation costs of lengthening holes isn’t passed on through green fees.
  • We forget that the game is already bifurcated! Club golfers and the general golfing public can use carts, pros and elite amateurs can’t (normally).  Club golfers and the general golfing public can use laser rangefinders in competition, pros and elite amateurs can’t.  Club golfers and the general golfing public can use clubs with U grooves, pros and elite amateurs use V grooves.  Pros have access to every shaft/clubhead/ball combination they can dream of and sometimes have balls designed specifically for them.  Amateurs don’t.

If you’re having a hard time imagining what the game of golf might look like at reduced distances, here’s one scenario imagined by Thomas Dunne. 


“Imagine a group of guys—low markers—heading out on a Saturday morning to their 5,000-yard preserve. Maybe this is a new course, or maybe it’s a recycled ’90s “Country Club for a Day,” re-routed and rebuilt to eliminate playing on land ill-suited for the game. Armed with their modern clubs and a sleeve of Titleist “80%s”, they stripe 200-yard drives, confront daunting hazards, and play feathery approaches into the most imaginative new greens. These golf holes have been built with extra care by the best architects alive, who are thrilled simply to not be working in China for a change. This course, “Little Pine Valley,” is a short walk, so the guys are done and back to their families in a little over three hours—because it also happens to be located in a place where people actually live. Best of all, they might even make plans to come back the next day, because this club—private or public—was developed at a fraction of the price of the Big Course up the street.

Certain golfers, of course, would enjoy tackling “Little Pine Valley” with both modern equipment and the modern ball. This would be a great course at which to be a woman, a senior or a kid just starting out. Even better, everyone could play from the same tee, the way our ancestors did for so many years. Solheim favors this concept, and I’m in his camp. Even if his Ball Distance Ratings are deemed unworkable for handicap purposes, wouldn’t this be just a tad more natural—and more sociable—than the way it is now? When you look at a glamorous magazine photo of a golf hole, do those five tee boxes stretched halfway to the horizon really appeal to the eye? We’ve gotten used to them because they’re considered necessary, of course—but are they actually good?”


Sounds pretty fun to me…


2 Responses to “Bifurcation Talk”

  1. I posted this on Chamblee’s facebook page:

    Brandel is correct on his take regarding the direction professional golf has taken. I have also argued that golf needs to fracture into two games. Other sports have taken a similar path, and requiring different gear for different venues is simply both common sense and openly acceptable in other sports.

    You don’t take an Indy car and run it on the NASCAR track. Canadian rules football, Arena, Rugby, soccer evolved from kickball games.

    In hindsight, golf probably made a mistake allowing metalwoods in the first place. Before the first introduction of metal woods in the early 1980′s, golf’s entire history was a stick and ball game based upon a combination of woods and irons. Woods being made of wood. Baseball in all its popularity has remained with wood at the pro level. I don’t see people complaining about it. Cricket outside the US is a popular and traditional game still embracing a wooden bat. There was nothing wrong with golf up and through the end of the persimmon age.

    Some of golf’s most memorable and storied moments are still with us from the eras of Jones, Hogan, Nelson, Snead through Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Player and Seve.

    Many consider Hogan to still be the premier role model of tee to green virtuosity and Hogan admittedly did not embrace yardage books. There is something to be said there. While a rollback to persimmon might not be popular with the general golfing public, it surely would solve most of the problems the game itself is facing. I say this in reference to golf as a game, not the business of golf. It’s important to the game of golf that the gear used to play the game is in harmony with the field it is played upon. Basketball courts, baseball, football fields are still the same size, with those games existing just fine keeping with a traditional ball.

    Most amateur golfers would hit persimmon about 230 off the tee or less. The pros would be about 250 to 280 max. The idea of different tee boxes, men’s white tees vs blue championship tees took care on that disparity so the amateur could hit their approach from roughly the same position.
    All the classic historic courses were designed around a 250 yard tee shot. The shapes of the greens were also designed to accept shots from both long and short irons based upon not only distance, but more importantly TRAJECTORY! While it may come as a shock to some that a par 5 is supposed to be a three shot hole, these holes traditionally were designed this way, so that the second shot might offer a VERY risky approach with a long iron or fairway wood to a more densely guarded green.

    Removing fairway long iron play from the game has been to golf’s detriment both as a player, spectator…. and learning a proper golf swing. The PGA Tour players are essentially playing par 68 or 69 each week. The old even par is the new 12 to 16 under across four days.

    The custodians of the great game of golf have failed miserably. I also find the attitude of the people genuinely in position to make a difference is shockingly apathetic.
    The absurdly complex nature of the rules and slow play are not being properly addressed either.

    My hats off to Brandel for putting his neck out in support of what is so fundamentally correct regarding the future of the game.

    Most critics of the “modern game” point the finger at either the USGA, R and A or the PGA Tour. Expecting them to turn “the ocean liner” around doesn’t seem to be the practical answer. What is more practical in my opinion would be to start a new organization which simply embraces golf being played properly. In other words, a game where the new governing body restricts equipment rather than trying to rebuild an entire infrastructure of golfing stadiums which we can safely say at this point has been a colossal failure. Rather than celebrate and give thanks to the previous generations that secured some of the most prized real estate to build golf courses in beautifully accessible metropolitan areas or along storied coastlines such as the Monterrey Peninsula, this generation suggests obsoleting the historic tracks in favor of longer courses to match the technological innovations in golf’s equipment.

    A new organization would be an exciting venture for those involved. It would be like hitting the reset button on a dead appliance and suddenly seeing it functioning properly again. Many of the original rules of golf favor a quick pace of play based upon honor, honesty and integrity with long forgotten protocols for handling lost balls, OB, hazards, and unplayable lies. Few realize today that the first rule of relief was a yardage penalty (6 yards or more Leith Code 1754, 1775 Mod) Splitting the game as Brandel suggests takes care of a lot of the problems along with creating a new ruling body complete with National Opens and professional and amateur events. Pick the game you want to play, chess or checkers. Two organizations could co exist in relative harmony.

  2. Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

    John, Before I add my three-cents worth on the primary topic of stratified rules for the game, a historical correction- Metalwoods (pardon the oxymoron) have been around since the late 19th century. The primary metal used was aluminum, i.e Standard Golf of Sunderland, U.K., et al. The creation of a sturdy, hollow shell clubhead allowed the Characteristic Time Factor (commonly still refered to as C.O.R., coefficient of restitution) for ball rebound off the face really added yardage for most players.
    Now, as to rule stratification:
    A) Organizations independent of the R&A or USGA may have stricter rules put in place by each respective leadership than those overseers of the game. The rules set by the R&A and USGA are the minimal standards that define golf as sport for recognition of record by either of those two governing bodies.
    B) With statement ‘A’ in mind, there is nothing prohibiting golf tours around the world from tightening their regulations/limitations on the play, equipment or technique (i.e., anchoring the long putter to the body) upon their participating membership.
    C) As long as there are those that desire to have their achievements recognized as ‘legitimate’ and within the bounds that define Golf as sport, the creation of differing sets of rules [with the exception of amatuer status] is unnecessary by the RA/USGA.
    Peace, Forged radical

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