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Panic not, Old Course changes a sign of times

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- There's anger and dismay in the air. People can't believe what's happened to the Old Course.

Why, the Royal and Ancients have lengthened it. They've added pot bunkers.

By jove, King Edward VII better do something!

In case you're not up on your British trivia, he's no longer running things. He was in 1905, when the last big techno-controversy hit the Firth. All of which proves the more things change, the more golf purists stay the same.

One hundred years ago, they were upset over how far the new Haskell Pro-V1x balls were flying. Now their knickers are all in a twitter over equipment the mad scientists at Taylor-Made, Callaway and the rest are producing.

If you're not familiar with their work, you obviously haven't spent $600 on a driver lately. Golf pros get the stuff free, and this is the first time they've come so heavily armed to the cradle of golf. In defense, the course has been lengthened 164 yards.

That may be barely more than a soccer pitch to you. But to some old blokes in Britain, altering an inch of Old Course real estate is sacrilege.

"It's a complete farce," one unidentified tournament official told The Guardian newspaper. "This is the Open Championship at the Old Course, for God's sake. Not some pitch-and-putt tournament down on the beach."

St. Andrews has been dragged into the biggest debate in golf. No, it's not whether Tiger hates Phil. It's what should be done to stop the technological encroachment.

Here's what should be done -- nothing.

It's a shame that some of the most revered courses are getting manhandled by Michelle Wie. It's also a shame gas no longer costs 32 cents a gallon.

For better and worse, time marches on. It's human nature to improve things. That's how walking led to the wheel led to the chariot led to the stagecoach led to the Chevy Vega.

OK, so one person's progress is another's farce.

"I guess it all started out at Augusta, didn't it?" Woods said. "They weren't really happy when I was hitting driver/wedge into 15th."

Back in the day, Gene Sarazen probably had to hit driver, 5-iron and wedge to reach the par-5. Then Woods showed up, and "Tiger-proofing" courses began. They've lengthened them, thrown up hazards and grown grass where none existed.

Don't blame Woods, however. He was using a throwback steel-shafted driver until a couple of years ago. Then he realized the K.J. Chois of the world were catching up, so Wood started swinging a nuked-up driver like everybody else.

The technology has really revolutionized golf balls. They may look the same, and they make act the same when you or me hit them. But the pros can make them do all sorts of things Bobby Jones could only dream of.

The USGA, R&A and seemingly every other A is wrestling with the problem. They're talking about limiting ball flight. Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and others have said it's high time something is done before pros start driving par-5s.

The rocket science has helped Choi and others close the gap, but the right guys are still winning. Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els would still be the most talented golfers if they had to hit the old Haskell ball.

Some of those are on display at the British Museum of Golf in St. Andrews. They replaced the gutta-percha ball, which led to the panic of 1905.

One hundred years from now, Woods' driver will probably be on display at the museum, right next to the feather golf balls and hickory shafted clubs.

And maybe by then the blokes will realize. You just can't Tiger-proof time.

David Whitley can be reached at dwhitley@orlandosentinel.com.

 

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