Don’t you just love a course guide when you are playing a new track? Anything that makes us look like a pro golfer can also make us feel like one, and peeling back the next page then gazing into the far yonder as if plotting whether to hit a gentle draw or power fade to the distant green is a strangely therapeutic thing to do… providing your reading glasses are handy!
I particularly value the introductory advice that we studiously absorb on each tee… “The long par 4 6th hole favours a high left-to-right tee shot aimed over the deep pot bunkers at 237 yards to find a small flat plateau on this split-level fairway from which a better view of the narrow undulating green protected by a sandy ridge of dunes, a dozen lakes and an armed militia group can be gained. The safe play will avoid the long border of poisonous foxglove plants on the left and the snake-infested semi-rough that cuts into the fairway on the right.” I may just play this one as a par 5!
As with most things in golf, it’s different strokes for different folks. We need to trust ourselves more. Pro course guides look like Oxbridge geometry exam papers. I just want to know if there is a hidden bunker near that patch of verdant green pasture I’m about to launch my ball in the general direction of. I can probably live without sage guidance on ball flight, approach angles or fairway contours. Just tell me where the water is. We all have a long list of ready-made excuses waiting for our errant shots but hitting a good one into a bad place through no fault of our own… now that is beyond annoying.
Professional players and their caddies use course guides in a far more detailed way than us mere mortals. They personalise them, they survey them and write in them and hold them sideways and upside down. It may be one of the reasons they take the thick end of 5 hours to get 18 holes in. Since 2006, distance-measuring devices have become permissible in all competitive golf by local ruling of the organising committee. Only the major pro tours now forbid them.
GPS and laser ‘AI’ cannot be used to chart gradients or wind speeds even at my level of the game. New R&A regulations are coming into force to limit the size and scale of green maps in a bid to highlight the skill of reading the slopes and borrows of putting surfaces with a trained eye. Here here! There is a battle of wills going on between embracing technology and preserving the value of human judgment in golf. Jack Nicklaus never needed a Bushnell.
We live in an age where we ask Siri everything. Name me the last time you pulled a book of road maps out of the glove compartment of your car? We use SatNav and Waze to get to the golf club, Bluetooth and hands-free to confirm the tee time and GolfWeather.com to check on the conditions. There is something quite quaint about then investing in the hard copy of a book full of pretty pictures, colour-coded maps and confusing diagrams. How long before we simply whisper into a caddy app… “hey Fooch, what the hell should I hit here?”… “the back of the ball would be a start!” comes Mr Fulcher’s recorded reply.
An occasional browse through the rules of our beloved game can yield hours of enlightenment and entertainment. Rule 4.3 on the use of equipment is a great read. Did you know that tossing powder into the air to determine wind direction, using physiological information recorded during a round, listening to music to help with swing tempo and taking a practice swing with a weighted headcover in place are all big no-no’s once you’ve said ‘play well’ on the first tee? Parts of the rule book are being rewritten next year. It won’t be the last revision. That app may not be too far away… although if Fooch is on the caddies’ picket line I, for one, won’t be crossing it!
Last week, I played the new West Cliffs lay-out at Praia D’el Rey in Portugal. Silly me forgot to update my Garmin wrist watch beforehand and, as I’m no big fan of Range Finders, I was suddenly playing a strange course with only a yardage book to guide me. Worse still, it was a ‘metreage’ book, so not only was I trying to work out which hollow or mound my ball was sitting on, I was also then converting the number on the chart into old money. Not surprisingly, the club in my hand was regularly the wrong club. I was rendered embarrassingly helpless.
The long hot British summer reminded us all that the yardage number should only ever be a starting point for club selection and shot execution. 400-yard-long drives were commonplace on the parched Carnoustie links at this year’s Open. Even I was hitting it 400 on some holes (in ‘net’ 1) at the height of the drought. Golf is a very different game on a hard links from a soft parkland course. The bounce of the ball, the wind velocity, the air temperature, even the previous night’s alcohol intake can all impact on our distance control.
Not even the most attentive caddy or most accurate aid can take into account all of our personal foibles. We all play golf in our own individual ways. We know the clubs we trust and the ones we don’t. On the relatively few occasions that I’ve employed a caddy, I’ve found myself taking his or her word on putt reads without thinking for myself (and falling out with them!). Losing my trusty calculator for a day in Portugal last week left me repeatedly staring at my wrist only to see bare skin looking back at me. I was in golf cold turkey.
Thinking for oneself and thinking straight are keys to good golf. Trust your judgment and you’ve only got yourself to blame. Course guides are only guides. It’s not their fault they don’t understand you like you do.