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Obsolete or OK?

Baltusrol vets say technology’s impact on courses is sometimes exaggerated

We’ve heard the drum beat many times: Technology has made the old courses obsolete. But is that true? Baltusrol and the PGA Championship offered an opportunity to test the premise. After all, the Springfield, N.J., course yielded a scoring record at the 1967 U.S. Open and another when it hosted the 1980 U.S. Open. And when Lee Janzen won the Open there in 1993, he, too, tied the 72-hole mark.

Poor Baltusrol. It didn’t stand a chance.

But it did. And three players who teed it up in 1993, Janzen, Davis Love III and Kenny Perry, said equipment’s impact on the game and its venues is sometimes overstated.

“Technology has not changed as much as everyone makes it out to,” said Love. “We can hit 1-irons by the [Nicklaus] plaque and still not get there.” Love wasn’t speaking hypothetically. During a practice round last week, he hit a number of 1-irons from where the Golden Bear famously knocked a 238-yard 1-iron onto Baltusrol’s 18th on the 72nd hole in ’67 – and failed to reach the green with any of them.

Still, technology clearly has changed. Only three of the 88 players who made the cut at Baltusrol in 1993 averaged 300 yards or more off the tee. Last week 26 of the 79 players making the cut exceeded that number. The 18th hole back then surrendered just nine eagles. This year there were 20 eagles on the home hole.

But still, Baltusrol hung in there. The scoring average in 1993 was 72.109, that was 0.345 of a stroke lower than this year’s 72.454. The winning score was also lower in ’93 – eight under by Janzen, compared to Mickelson’s four under.

As for those claiming it’s because they lengthened the track by 300-plus yards and grew rough, well, the cost of rough was fair: 0.489 of a stroke – hardly excessive. As for the added length, Perry says it equals out. “You’re hitting your drive farther so the holes are playing about where we played from in 1993,” said Perry. I’m playing my approaches from about the same spots.” Added Janzen, “Even though technology has advanced how far we hit the ball, I hit a lot longer clubs to the greens today than I [did then].”

Which means maybe technology hasn’t made this A.W. Tillinghast gem – or a number of other courses – obsolete after all.

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