Increasingly, golf is all about numbers. The traditional benchmarks of par and yardage have been joined by measurements such as launch angle, spin rate, club speed, and many more, thanks to technology.
Even the traditional yardage book has been elevated into the 21st century, thanks to GPS locating. Distance-measuring devices (DMDs) have been allowed in competition by the USGA, under a local rule, since 2006. In 2014, the association began allowing them in all USGA amateur championships and their respective qualifying events.
About a decade ago, the first StrackaLine Greens Guides (StrackaLine.com) were used on the PGA Tour. Now they are in widespread use on all major pro tours, by more than 300 college teams and by thousands of competitive amateurs. The goal, a company press release states, is to “ensure golfers enjoy the benefit of modern technology all the way through the green.”
Prior to their Greens Guides, says the release, “PGA Tour caddies were rolling balls on greens, writing notes, and purchasing hand-drawn maps. It was a time-consuming process that produced accurate, if not extremely precise, information at the professional level. For amateurs without caddies, assistance on the greens was virtually non-existent …
“Utilizing patented 3D laser scanning technology, StrackaLine creates topographical maps that are accurate down to a millimeter. The greens maps, which feature easy-to-read arrows, allow players to view contour and fall lines, in addition to slope percentage, anywhere on the green.”
There’s even an app for use on a phone, though StrackaLine is not the only such product. Among others is GolfLogix.
Overall, technology has helped golfers swing better, play better and score better.
But once again, as it has in the past, the USGA has drawn a line in the sand. On July 31, the USGA and R&A announced in a joint press release that the two governing bodies “are proposing regulations regarding the use of green-reading materials, reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability.”
Jim Stracka, co-founder of StrackaLine with his son Chase, just doesn’t understand why.
“My question for the USGA is, ‘What is your issue with the book? Are you worried that golfers are going to be making every putt?’”
Stracka spoke to WTGN as he was driving to a meeting with Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s Senior Director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, who was quoted, along with David Rickman, the R&A’s Executive Director of Governance, in that July 31 release.
Following a scant six-week “period of feedback and consultation,” the resulting decision will be included in the new Rules of Golf to go into effect on Jan. 1.
“I just don’t get it,” Stracka said. “Golfers have had this information for a long time, but with my book, they get it in a much more efficient manner. It’s not a pace-of-play issue. If anything, it speeds up play. And look at the putting stats on tour. They haven’t changed since players started using my book.”
In his excellent “Open Letter” published on Golf.com on Aug. 6, Matt Kuchar caddie John Wood makes a formidable counter argument to the USGA and R&A, which concludes by citing Columbia Business School professor Mark Broadie, the game’s most respected statistician.
“Even if there were small [improvements] in putting,” Wood quotes Broadie as saying, “with the current data it would be impossible to attribute changes to a player’s putting skill, green-reading books or green conditions.”
Aside from that sobering statement, the USGA and R&A might be creating an unenforceable rule, a nightmare for local rules officials. What is to prevent an unscrupulous player or caddie from copying the green-reading data into his own yardage-book notes and surreptitiously using that during competition?
“If they go ahead with this, they will be putting the responsibility on the rules officials at every event," he said. "How do you audit a piece of paper? What will they do? Come over and say, ‘Hey, what’s that in your book? Let me see it.’
“It’s not good for golf.”
As for the outcome of that meeting with Pagel?
"It was a good conversation and we’re going to keep talking," Stracka said. "Nothing’s cast in stone.”
If you want to voice an opinion on this matter, email firstname.lastname@example.org prior to Friday, Sept. 14.