Friday, October 21, 2005

Laser Range Finders - Now Legal

The USGA has just granted "legal" status to laser yardage indicators.

My question... is this good or bad?

Their reasoning is hard to question... they're are nothing more than electronic yardage books and they will speed up play. As someone who has to tromp around more than a little to find sprinkler heads on my home course, I can't disagree with that. And, have you played yet at a resort course that has GPS systems mounted in the golf cart? The newest versions not only give yardage to the pin, they give it to hazards and even to the carts for the slow foursome in front of you.

So... what could be bad about better information and faster play?

Well, I think it's a bit of a paradox. I go back to the time when shrubs were first planted along the rough to mark yardage in 50-yard increments, and there was more than a little controversy over them. Before that, you just had to eye-ball it: sight down the fairway to where you thought you could carry your wedge, and then count off 10-yard increments from there. A much more demanding game, certainly.

But, those yardage bushes worked fine, in their way. As you walked past the last bush before your ball, you counted your steps and that gave you a perfectly good yardage estimate... instantly! Maybe you can control your distances within a few yards, but I can't and most other amateurs can't either, so the pace-off approximation was just fine.

I see this as just another case of technology encroachment. In White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, there is a 9-hole course, Oakhurst Links, that claims to be a faithful restoration of the first course laid out in this country. It's set on only 40 acres, you play with hickory shafts and gutta-percha balls, carrying your four clubs under your arm, and your maximum drive is 160 yard (after you learn to wait for the whippy shaft to flex). One special local rule: if your ball lands in sheep-dung, you get to clean and place.

Anyone who plays Oakhurst learns a sad lesson: all this new technology has cost us plenty in money, acreage, and playing time, without making the old original game one bit more fun or more challenging.

We need to be careful about our rush to the future.

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