a students' magazine

Technology applied to golf

In my previous post I shared some thoughts about technology. Now I’d like to support my considerations with an example which, obviously, is in close relation with my personal life and hobbies.

I have played golf since 2006 and now I’ve got a considerable experience about this sport, but also a passion and curiosity for its origins. I can say that I started playing in a period in which golf, as well as other sports, was largely influenced by technology (and that is pretty relevant since golf needs a specific equipment, when in other cases the classic “ball” is the only accessory needed).

Well, I think everybody knows that golf is played with a little white “rubber ball” and many different “clubs” used to strike it. In general golf clubs are used to make the ball fly at different distances: longer clubs make it “fly” further, while shorter clubs make it reach nearer places (but with a higher trajectory). The ability of the golfer is not only to choose the correct club or make “evaluations” on the shot he’s going to make, but mainly the really hard part is the “execution” of the stroke. Hitting a ball with a golf club (and hitting it well) is, maybe, one of the most difficult tasks for the human body. Experience, natural disposition (if there is one), practice and “hard work” can surely help the novice to improve his game and make the “art of ball striking” become simpler.

I always want to improve, and I think that nothing is better than learning from the greatest players, especially the ones from the past. Speaking about the best players of this game, I think that golf reached its “golden” age in the period between the 40s and 70s of the past century. Golf courses and practice grounds around the world had the pleasure to be walked by golfers like “Ben Hogan”, “Bobby Jones”, “Byron Nelson”, “Arnold Palmer”, “Gary Player”, “Jack Nicklaus” and others.

The “technological side” of golf in this period was not very advanced and these fantastic guys were able to play amazing 18 holes rounds with a sort of equipment that today would be called “archaic”. It is statistically approved that the overall score detained by “Tour players” (the most famous golfers we can see on TV) in the past era was even better than today’s results. If the technological evolution in golf equipment (clubs in particular) is considerable, science and statistics would have expected more impressive scores and records.

So how come this hasn’t happened?

Maybe golf is getting less frustrating for the amateur, but why are  today Tour players not as good as their predecessors?

We have to look again at the past (this time a more recent one). The American economic growth exploded after World War II (from the 60s) has degenerated (in the 80s) into a consumerist approach to life. The international market has also involved golf in its productive system. So a lot of innovations regarding golf club “precision”, “power” and “ease of use” were launched in a short time. People’s minds have been “hypnotized”, in this sense, by the sudden change and even the best players put too much credit on it. So the golfer’s ability has shifted in second order, giving too much importance to the “newest”, “super-duper”, “bombing” golf irons.

The USGA research centre was an organ assigned to the control and testing of golf equipment, starting with some precise “standard” values in order to build golf clubs with “normal” shapes and features.

“We all want more distance, but without the USGA standards, technology could become more important than ability! … Making sure that no golfer has an unfair advantage…”

These are the phrases pronounced by Kathy Baker in this commercial I found on Youtube (enjoy):

The USGA politics has changed a lot in the last years, and instead of “spending millions of dollars protecting the game” it is now more oriented towards “attracting millions of people” with illusive perspectives.

Technology can help a lot, I agree, but only up to a point.

We need to train ourselves to get better, counting on our personal strength. Without respect for the past we can’t create a decent culture and we might put technological development on a dangerous track.

Our ancestors have shown us the way!


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