Martin Dempster: Tom Watson argues for ‘one size fits all’ golf courses

WHEN Tom Watson says he’s about to get up on his soabox, you can almost feel your ears pricking up in anticipation.

And, though he may have been digressing as he did so during an interview about Turnberry and his exploits there over the years, the five-time Open champion certainly came out with some interesting observations about the length of modern-day golf courses and, more significantly, the challenge they provide for the average golfer.

“I don’t have a problem with people building new courses; what I do have a problem with is people building courses that aren’t playable to the majority of people,” he declared. “Don’t build courses that are so difficult that the average player has no fun playing them.”

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With both feet now firmly planted on that soapbox, Watson highlighted an initiative that was launched in America last year by his good friend Barney Adams, the founder of equipment manufacturer Adams Golf. Called ‘Tee It Forward’, its goal is to help golfers have more fun on the course and enhance their overall performance by playing from a set of tees best suited to their abilities. By playing from forward tees, Adams wants to see amateur golfers have the chance to play the course at the same relative distance as a touring professional would over 18 holes. The playing field is levelled by giving golfers the opportunity to play from distances that are properly aligned with their abilities.

You can see what Adams is trying to achieve when Watson, a man who knows exactly what he is speaking about when it comes to any matter related to the Royal & Ancient game, reels off some statistics. For example, he pointed out that the average club that professionals hit in for their second shot at a 460-yard par-4 is an 8-iron. Yet, he added, the majority of club golfers are struggling to get up with a driver followed by a 3-wood at par-4s measuring just over 400 yards.

“Far too many par-4s are playing as par-5s for the average golfer. On a daily basis there might be five or six par-4s that they can’t reach in two. That’s why Barney wants people to take a hard look at making golf more enjoyable for those players,” observed Watson. “When you’ve got courses that are too long, it’s no fun to play and it also slows up the game. So let’s do what Barney is suggesting by playing it forward. That way the average golfer can play a game more like the pros as they will be hitting irons into greens rather than 3-woods.”

Plenty out there will surely know where Adams and Watson are coming from on this one. I certainly do. Last year, for instance, I played the West Course at Wentworth, where the great and good of European golf are gathering for this week’s BMW PGA Championship, and found it way to difficult. I’ll admit my ten handicap doesn’t really reflect the standard of my game very often these days but it’s not often I’ve come off a golf course, especially one that enjoys a magnificent setting and is in tip-top condition, feeling as though it wasn’t enjoyable.

Surely that has to be the first box you need to tick every time you come off a course, though one trip to Spain a few years back did remind me that people obviously have different ways of getting their kicks from the sport. It was one of those courses where you stood on some tees and had difficulty seeing a fairway. It was also a lost ball even if you strayed a few feet off the cut stuff.

The bloke I was playing with lost a bucketful. Yet, walking up the fairway after sending another one sailing off into the rubbish, he turned to me and declared: “I just love this course!” I wasn’t capable of offering a reply that would have kept the rest of the round sociable, so didn’t come up with one, but I’m still shaking my head to this day wondering why?

Watson said he’d been thrilled when, during a visit to Lytham a couple of weeks ago, he looked out of his hotel room to see a par-3 course nearby was “loaded with kids” who were clearly enjoying themselves on a layout that was suited to their abilities. “It’s about setting up the course the way it’s supposed to be,” said Adams of his initiative. “If I hit a bad shot with an 8-iron, it’s going to be much easier to find than a bad shot with a hybrid or a fairway wood.” Hear, hear!

Swedish route right for Pretswell as she maps future

I’M all for players being encouraged to try and make sure they get their name on a national championship roll of honour. Which is why I’ve found it irritating in recent years that, instead of pushing players in the direction of the Scottish Youths’ Championship, it seems that the SGU has been comfortable with them going off to play in the Irish Open Stroke-Play Championship. At first, I also felt uncomfortable a few weeks back when it was announced that Pamela Pretswell, the sole Scot in the Great Britain & Ireland side for next month’s Curtis Cup at Nairn, wouldn’t be playing in the Scottish Women’s Championship at Tain, having decided to compete instead in a Ladies European Tour Access Series event in Sweden.

In fairness to the Bothwell Castle player, however, I am happy to hold up my hand and admit she got that decision spot on. Yes, she’s still an amateur and would have taken great delight in adding her name alongside the likes of Belle Robertson and Catriona Matthew on the roll of honour for the SLGA’s flagship event.

However, having come close already to proving she has the game to play on the Ladies European Tour – she fell just short of earning her card at the Q-School earlier this year – Pretswell is determined to glean as much experience as she possibly can before she has a second bite at that cherry.

In case you missed it, the 23-year-old won that event in Sweden, becoming the first amateur to taste success on the development circuit. Coming hot on the heels of two recent wins by Carly Booth – the first was also an Access Series event – an exciting future is starting to brew for Scottish ladies’ golf.