5 items disappearing from golf

Old-timers may miss a few of things on our list, but most golfers probably won't.
Who is crazy enough to still carry a 1, 2 and 3 iron in their golf bags?

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.

  1. Printed Scorecards
    Will golfers ever stop using printed scorecards in favor of scoring on an app?

    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 The printed scorecard has been replaced by an app called "My Score" that all club members use to manage their handicaps.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.

  2. Long Irons
    Ben Hogan's shot at Merion during the 1950 U.S. Open is immortalized with a plaque and the famous picture.

    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.

  3. Ball Washers
    How often do your wash your golf ball on the course?

    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.

  4. Printed Yardage Books
    When's the last time you bought a yardage guide?

    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.

  5. Visors
    Bubba Watson chips during a practice round for The 2019 PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

    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.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,100 courses and written about golf destinations in 25 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
21 Comments

I totally agree with visors, never could figure out why you would wear such a thing for male golfers always thought they should be for the ladys out there, I can get along without the yardage books with all the latest tech gadgets but would be disappointed to see them quit printing score cards, nothing like keeping track of GIR and putts in pencil as well as who is winning all the money for the hole by hole game with a group of golfers at the end of the day over a couple of beers. The ball washers could disappear for my liking I always had a towel or two with me as I learned from my caddie days. As for the long irons I can still hit them even at my age of 67 and probably won't ever let them go as the two I have are quite dated, and still like them over a hybrid any day, nothing like the sound when you hit them flush.

I can agree with visors. There seem to be a lot more balding people golfing
With all of the apps available for distance, hazards etc, the yardage books are going away.
Also long irons..I cut down my Dad’s 1 iron so I can putt from the fringe
Totally disagree with ball washers, and printed score cards.Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough washers.

I still use and like printed golf score cards and so do my playing partners. We do use golf apps for distance to the cup for our second or third shots.

Some really silly claims here. Scorecards will go away at the same time as private wagers? Yeah, right. 380 hours annually to service ball washers -- someone is milking the clock. And since they're practically indestructible, $3800 a year
for maintenance? Huh? Someone is cooking the books, too? And thankfully those soccer
mom visors are going the way of metal spikes and plus-fours.

Hey Steve, Nothing silly to see here. I'm guessing those ballwashers are the most expensive in the business - the Telsa of ballwashers? - and every part probably costs a fair bit. The scorecard revolution is real. 20 years from now, maybe the carts will have computers in them where you input score? Technology is going to change the game in profound ways in the not-so-distant future.

It's been decades since I had a 2 iron in the bag. Replaced it with a cobra baffler, which was one of the first hybrids. Now have 4 hybrids and even dropped the 3 wood. Which reminds me, the 2 wood should also be on the list! And I do still use a card, mostly because cel coverage is almost none at my course and have to load the app b4 going there.

I still have use for a printed scorecard

Are there actually any courses that don't use printed scorecards? I've never been to one that doesn't. I don't see that trend taking hold.

Considering the global push to minimize/ban the once-use plastic items it is ironic we are still using plastic golf tees. B.W.

Clearly, you do not play much golf. The idea here is the plastic tee is provides many, many rounds of play. I use the plastic same tee for months (the plastic martini tee ) and highly recommend it.

I use a '4 more yds' tee with a flexible top. One tee usually lasts 4 months or so.

My lovely wife still wears a visor. I always wanted to try try a 1 iron but didn't have the guts to dot. Can't say I miss the ball washers or benches, as I never used them much. We do use greens books from GolfLogic, especially on a course new to us, and we both cherish the score cards, especially if the occassional birdie shows up. All this being said, we are both in our 60's and play more for the enjoyment and memories.

No. For some of us old timers who don't have smart phones, a printed scorecard is a must. Also, for those who bring their smart phones onto a course, there is nothing more irritating than a ringing phone, and someone who thinks they are so important that they have to answer and carry on a 2 or 3 hole conversation. Silence is golden!!

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Will sand bottles on carts become obsolete? I like the idea of sand rakes on carts.

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5 items disappearing from golf