De-powered ball experiment

Added on October 19th, 2014 by
Posted in Greenkeeping, Slow play, The ball

Report on the Nick Park Memorial Day 

A De-Powered ball was used in a tournament

by golfers from Denmark, Ireland, Jersey and those more local, in commemoration of the late Nick Park, organised recently by the Campaign for REAL Golf, which FineGolf supports.

This was held at Temple GC, that is reasonably close to a major airport for ease of access, but more importantly has pursued ‘natural greenkeeping’ and the well draining downland course, over-looking the Thames valley, has a high proportion of fine grasses across its acres and greens, giving the ‘running-game’ that Nick Park was so keen on promoting.

We played off the front tees which were the ones that the famous architect Willie Park Jnr (twice an Open Champion) designed to be used when it opened in 1909 at about 5,500 yards. The white tees now are 6210 yards.

One of my playing partners who can hit a modern ball 325 yards in dry conditions, managed around 275 yards with this ball and whereas he may have throttled back with a three wood on some holes with a normal ball, he pretty much went full bore with the de-powered ball. On the fourteenth hole I had my best drive which carried perhaps 210 yards and ran another 40 yards which is in line with the ball’s 15/20% de-powered specification.

The major benefit of playing with this ball was being able to tee-off close to the last green without having to walk back to modern lengthened tees and yet still have the drive bunkers in play.

This perhaps was the primary reason why, without hurrying, most people, in flights of three players, were round in between three and three and a quarter hours.

It should be mentioned that the long-grassed rough meadows, such a beautiful feature of Temple, had recently been cut and so there was little requirement for provisional balls to be hit when off-line. This quickened the pace of play, but on the other hand playing off forward tees with a de-powered ball, the deep rough comes less into play.

The addition of the FineGolf / Ted Dexter “speedier rules” could also have been useful, particularly if lost balls had been prevalent.

Funnily it was with the iron shots where the distance seemed to make the most difference. One’s eye measurement of distance looked too short for the club in one’s hand! I kept having to check the yardage and make a mathematical calculation to convince myself that it was a seven iron for example rather than a nine iron, which perhaps added a little time to the round until one is used to the new yardages.

One lady commented to me that she only used one of her four wedges when normally she uses all of them the whole time. I can understand this from a purely mechanical point of view but it may also have had something to do with the condition of this naturally running course that has a high percentage of indigenous red fescue and browntop bent grasses (though one has to note with all the wetness over winter that there was less fescue in the greens this year than in 2013) giving a firmer bounce to aprons and greens, and making the flop shot with the wedge not as productive as the bump and run, often through the apron with, say, an eight iron.

I would add that needing to hit the ball harder when chipping, to fly the ball as far as you wanted, perhaps also made those difficult ‘half’ shots into the green easier with less chance of de-accelerating through and fluffing the shot. We should remember that it was always suggested that the ‘floater’ ball (larger and less weight) at the beginning of the last century, was easier to control around and putt with on the green than the more explosive off the club face ‘wee heavy’ that went further.

I overheard another person saying they had experienced difficulty getting backspin on the ball to stop it. Were they perhaps also used to playing on ‘target-style’ greens which were more lush and receptive and of annual meadow grass (Poa annua)? Their inability to stop the ball here at Temple perhaps was less to do with the ball and something to do with the fact that a well hit shot with backspin to a firm green of fine grasses, bounces once, skips on, checks and then runs out.

On these small greens which are mostly of high quality and some of the truest all year round, within the vicinity of London, if the ball first pitches near the flag it will often run through the green. Rather than stopping near its pitchmark, like the vast majority of greens behave around London, these possessing predominantly annual meadow grass (Poa annua) as I experienced recently at the beautiful Colt designed St George’s Hill. (As an aside I am assured that SGH is now committed to going back to fine grasses as part of a heathland recovery programme to re-establish the course as a ‘running-game’ venue rather than the ‘target-style’ it has become).

It was a well organised day and I am very grateful to have been invited. One had played eighteen holes, showered, been well fed with Temple’s renowned steak or fish pie, watered and socialised, all in under five hours.

Nevertheless the survey we were asked to fill out after playing, could have been better designed to elicit more useful information concerning the ball’s performance and its effect on the ‘REAL’ issues if the organiser’s conclusions on the ball were anything to go by:-

“The ball should fit the course and not vice versa” (as Nick kept saying for more than 35 years) is our first conclusion. The reduced distance ball used in this year’s tournament did not tick all the boxes. It performed a bit too much like an ordinary range ball. For next year’s tournament we will find a ball with the same features and benefits as a modern ball like the ProV1, but with a 15-20% reduction in distance.”

Certainly the ball’s cover was not as smooth, shiny or soft as a ProV1 and it had ‘Range’ stamped on it, nevertheless these conclusions perhaps suggest that ‘The Campaign for REAL Golf’ is suffering from the loss of its core founder who was able to understand and was not afraid of making the close connection between the agronomy of the running game and the campaign objectives of golf being Enjoyable, Affordable and Less time-consuming. Nick Park put at least thirty five years into understanding the complexity of theses issues and will be greatly missed by the recreational game if less by the short-term thinking of commercial interests that dominate today’s golf market.

It really is worth reading the eight articles Nick Park wrote in 1988 in Golf Monthly on the history of how the ball has been or rather has not been regulated since 1920 and though all the ball-makers would have us believe that since the introduction of Titleist’s Pro V1 around 2000 everything has changed (see an excellent ball review in the latest National Club Golfer) the fundamentals have not and that is why FineGolf has summarised Nick’s key points in the ‘what is FineGolf‘ section of the website under ‘History of the ball controversy’ so it makes it easier for people to be informed about the present de-powered ball debate.

FineGolf celebrates the four remaining founders and their wish to keep alive the memory and work of a very fine man and why not put Tuesday 29th of September into your 2015 diary and join them in their planned second memorial day.

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