Why “Tiger-Proofing” Courses Is the Wrong Solution

Any time a Major Championship returns to an older course, you’ll often here people lament about the changes made to the design of the course in order to combat the prodigious distances players can hit the ball nowadays.

We’ve had Rory McIlroy hitting one drive well over 400 yards at last year’s British Open. Almost all players on tour regularly sail the ball 300+ yards given decent weather conditions. Many can thrash it 330+ yards, some even further on a regular basis.

When modifying courses for players length from the tee was first mooted, it was called “Tiger-proofing” due to Tiger Woods dominance of the golf and distance off the tee. It’s a phrase that has stuck, even if Tiger’s form hasn’t.




Yet arguably, it is the most lamentable and ridiculously illogical decision ever taken in the history of modern golf.

The cost to a golf club to ‘Tiger-proof’ a course is astronomical. Land has to be excavated or even purchased to expand the course. Tees moved further and further back, bunkers added or redesigned and in doing so, you can destroy the beauty of the hole or even the coruse itself.

A great example of this is the Road Hole at St Andrews. The famous 17th has been part of British Open history, but by moving the tee so far back, it has somewhat destroyed the drama of this most glorious of penultimate holes. Prior to 2010, the hole was a fantastic 455 yard par four, however, a redesign prior to the Open Championship in that year saw the hole lengthened by 40 yards.


Colin Montgomerie was the most outspoken critic of the changes stating “If you designed the hole now you would be shot. If you said now ‘”I’m going to put a tee over an old railway on a practice ground and get you to hit over a disused course and over a hotel’ people would think you were off your head.”






The Scotsman has a point. It’s not just St. Andrews though. Changes at courses like Wentworth have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent times. Indeed, in their quest to ‘Tiger-proof’ courses, it seems designers may be doing more damage than good.

And the most galling aspect about all of this is that it is absolutely unnecessary.


Rather than spend billions procuring land, moving tees, reshaping bunkers, adding more hazards and potentially ruining the look of a hole, there is a cheaper, simpler and much more effective solution that can easily be controlled and that is to change the golf ball.





Now critics will argue that it is unfair to effectively penalise golfers and manufacturers for being so powerful on the course or to have designed a ball that travels so far, but that is a nonsense and here’s why:

In the 1980s, in the men’s javelin, it soon became apparent that the 90+ metre distances the men were throwing the current javelin now was likely to become a problem. As competitors got quicker, stronger, faster and threw the original javelin further. It became apparent that soon, you would run out of field for the javelin to land.


So, do you let the javelin star throw it anyway, and let athletes on the track or spectators face the brunt of a javelin hurtling towards them? No of course not, you change the javelin design.

Small changes to how the javelin is weighted and designed meant that all throwers were forced to use the new javelin, which was safer, if shorter.


You didn’t see javelin stars complaining that athletic grounds should simply lengthen their fields (which is impossible) to allow them to continue throwing the javelin even greater distances.

If all golfers were made to use balls that travelled shorter distances, even if it was just 10% shorter, then there would be no advantage for any golfer. Every player would hit the ball 10% less distance. Courses would then not have to make potentially damaging changes to courses that have, until recently, been absolutely perfectly designed for the game.


The problem golf faces is that there is coming a time when this will need to be addressed. While watching a 400 yard drive is spectacular, there is a point where it makes a mockery of the course. Changing the ball players use is the simplest, cheapest and most effective method that will work across all golf courses in the world.


It’s about time the powers that be had the courage to begin implementing this into the modern professional game.


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