Golf is a game of traditions.
From Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods, the game hasn't changed much at its core. We're all still using sticks to whack a tiny ball into a slightly larger hole in the ground.
But its nuances have shifted dramatically. Just the last three-plus decades has seen their fair share of disruptions, from the Titleist Pro V1 to the large titanium (and now Carbonwood) driver heads and the launch of the LIV Golf Series.
All this change - much of it spearheaded by rapidly improving technology - is affecting the game in both subtle and profound ways. Certain elements of the game are slowly disappearing. We look at five items that seem to be fading away in this story. Like it or not, at least a couple might be fully phased out of the game within a generation's time.
Think there's no way the printed scorecard ever disappears? A trip to the Australian Sandbelt will change your mind, as it did mine. There, I met members at private clubs like Royal Melbourne and Victoria Golf Club who said they haven't used a printed scorecard since golf's post-pandemic comeback. When I checked in at Yarra Yarra, the pro behind the counter had to dig a pencil and scorecard out of a drawer for me to use. The printed scorecard has been replaced by an app called "My Score" that all club members use to manage their handicaps. Stableford is the game of choice Down Under. If a player wants to enter the daily competition - most do - they not only post their scores in the app but the scores of their playing partners as well.
Could this trend jump across the Pacific and find footing in America? Possibly. I often use the GolfNow Compete app to track my rounds, but other times, I feel naked without a printed card and pencil in my back pocket. It will be interesting to monitor how quickly paper cards give way to digital in the future.
Could you see yourself giving up printed scorecards permanently? Let us know in the comments below.
Some of the most famous shots in golf history were hit with long irons. How about the legendary 1 irons by Ben Hogan at the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion and Jack Nicklaus at the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach? Most golfers today have never hit a 1 or 2 iron in their lives. Hybrids and high-lofted woods have made the long iron a thing of the past. I've never owned anything lower than a 5 iron. Heck, I even took that club out of my bag years ago, switching instead to a 7 wood to get the job done. Many modern sets of irons don't even offer long irons anymore. "Not even God can hit a 1-iron," Lee Trevino famously quipped.
The pandemic was tough on golf course accessories that were feared to be dangerous touch points spreading the coronavirus. Bunker rakes have made a comeback. Ball washers, not so much. Golf.com's Josh Sens wrote a eulogy for the golf-ball washer in 2022.
Many superintendents and course managers are happy they're fading away. A 2017 study conducted by the United States Golf Association on the West Course at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., noted how much time and money was saved when certain accessories like ball washers and benches were removed. The total annual savings without ball washers ended up at 380 labor hours and $3,000 for replacements and supplies. A wet towel may have to suffice moving forward.
Printed Yardage Books
The rise of smartphone apps with GPS capabilities that measure distance and map out holes has led to a steep decline in the use of printed yardage guides. I've long been a collector of yardage books and appreciate them as works of art. But to a younger generation of golfers who have no concept of traditional newspapers or books, they just don't hold the same sentimental and practical appeal. Ben Baldwin, the PGA director of sales at Best Approach Publications, said when he first attended the PGA Merchandise Show nearly two decades ago, five or six yardage-guide companies had booths at the event. This year, Best Approach was the sole survivor.
The loss of golfers who use printed yardage guides has somewhat been offset by clubs looking to create custom books for special tournaments such as member-guests and club championships. Two new digital printers allow Best Approach to create textured, 3D-style graphics that rise off the page.
"The clubs that are still ordering are ordering. They are just not ordering 5,000 books. They are ordering 1,500 books a year," Baldwin said. "The demand has gone down from the consumer, and it (our sales) reflects that, but we've leveraged that into, instead of just printing 5,000 books of a golf course to sell in the golf shop or hand out, we will print 1,500 books for them to sell day in and day out, and then also print five custom-events books throughout the season. They will end up in the long-run (comparable), maybe not in volume of printed product, but volume of dollars spent. It is just redirected."
All is not lost yet for yardage guide lovers. During my recent trip to Australia and Tasmania, Royal Melbourne gave me a thick yardage guide detailing its East and West courses as part of a small gift pack every international guest receives. Tasmania's three world top 100-caliber courses - Lost Farm, Barnbougle Dunes and King Island's Cape Wickham - still had yardage books for sale in their respective pro shops.
There will probably always be a place for the visor in the game, especially in warm locales. I turned on the LPGA Tour recently to see Lydia Ko wearing one in Thailand. She's hardly the only pro wearing a visor, but their numbers are dwindling according to this Golf Digest story, and it just seems like I never see everyday golfers rocking one. I can't help but wonder if visors are mostly going the way of bell bottoms ... extinct.