Over the past couple of years I have been trying to figure out a better way to get golfers to understand the importance of finishing the last twenty-five yards of a hole in three shots or less. It is clearly obvious that golfers struggle with this aspect of the game and do not fully appreciate how it relates to scoring. I think this has a great deal to do with why they do not play more golf.
At Merion, we have two golf courses. The East Course is widely considered one of the best in the world. The West Course, on the other hand, is a well-kept secret. The course is considered short by today’s standard; it offers all the challenges around the green that you would see at other great courses.
Knowing this to be the case, I thought I could close down the West Course for an afternoon and create an event for members to enjoy. It was important to create a fun afternoon that didn’t require a person to use up an entire day. The following is what we tried to do and what we achieved.
Teams: Two man teams each comprised of one member and one guest. Members were also asked to sign up with three other members all of which would invite one guest. Play would be in groups of eight. The field size was capped at eighty players.
Course Set-Up: Ten greens were selected to be used for the event. A staff of two employees dropped eighty golf balls around each green (800 in total).
Start Time: 3:00 PM Shotgun Start. Most participants were able to work until 2:00 PM and be over to the course in time to play. The 18th fairway was used for warm up. Players got 4-5 of their own golf balls out of their bag and just casually chipped and pitched a few balls. People were watchful of the others and we had no problem, what so ever with safety. There is not a range at our West Course which is a mile down the road from the East Course and Clubhouse.
Format: The format was a better-ball of partners. Prizes were awarded for the event, but kept to a minimum. Players were asked to select one of the balls around the green and finish the hole. After hitting their first shot, they were asked to measure and record the distance they hit it from the green and the score they made on the hole. The distance they hit their first shot from the hole was a very important statistic to capture. When each team arrived at the first green (hole) to play there were 80 golf balls to choose from. At the second, there were 72 balls left. At the third, there were 64 balls to choose from. The number of balls on the last was down to 8. So, the shots to choose from got progressively harder as the round went on. The last three holes had provided some unique challenges for the participants. The round took 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete!
1. The staff was told not to make the shots overly difficult. The point would be proven regardless.
2. The staff was told to make sure that some balls would be set up with nice lies, while others would be more challenging. This played right into the contest and made the message that much clearer.
Green Fees and Cart Fees: We were able to waive these fees. The players didn’t complete a nine hole round so we didn’t feel it was appropriate to charge them. The goodwill spread that evening has been very positive.
Demo Day: The event was sponsored by Cleveland Golf. They did a demo day with putters, wedges and drivers at the completion of play. Players had the opportunity to try various clubs after the competition. Cleveland also had their local sales representative, a company representative, and a short game expert on hand. The short game expert gave a demonstration clinic on how to chip, pitch, hit lob shots.
Dinner at the East Course Clubhouse: A dinner for all participants was held at the East Course Clubhouse. Members were asked to pick up the charge for their own dinner and their’ guest. The guest speaker for the event was Terry Dill. Terry played professional golf on tour for 27 years and is now a lawyer. Terry talked about the short game and his experience playing in the 1981 US Open at Merion. He also told stories about his relationship with Ben Hogan, winner of the 1950 US Open Championship that was held at Merion. Terry is a native of Texas and currently lives in Austin, Texas. Terry spoke for about five minutes and then opened the floor up for questions. The most important point he made during the dinner was that when an individual practices he should hit five shots related to the short game for every shot he/she hits with a full swing of a flat lie.
Spreadsheet with Data: A spreadsheet was created that recorded each players score and distance from the hole after the first shot. Copies of the spreadsheet were distributed to the players at dinner. 80 players were then sorted by handicap so that players could see how they fared against players with similar handicap. My message was to see if they could become as proficient in the short game area as someone with handicap that was five shots better.
1. Single digit handicap players chipped and pitched the ball 6 feet closer on average than those players with a handicap of 10 or higher.
2. The field averaged 3.11 shots per hole. If par was set at 30 for ten holes, the field could not average under par. That is an amazing statistic! I thought they would average 3.15.
3. Players seemed to get a better concept of when and how the lie dictates what shot can be played or in this case selected. The better players were always looking for balls that had a decent lie before picking which ball to finish the hole.
4. The best score for the evening was 25. Four players had 25 (5 under). One particular player with a 9 handicap shot 25.
5. Most players have the appropriate wedges to hit the shots.
6. There is a huge opportunity to give more lessons on pitching, chipping and putting.