Saturday, July 05, 2008

The hole is too small. Other than that, golf's a helluva good time, but its microscopic target has perverted the game since the R&A set the hole's diameter at 4 1/4 inches in 1891. Why 4 1/4 inches? Because that happened to be the width of a hole-cutter used in Musselburgh, Scotland, back when lawn-mowers sounded like this: Baaaaah. That rusty hole-cutter, still on display at Royal Musselburgh Golf Club, was said to owe its size to the width of drainpipes, which were used as hole-liners in those days. Thus did the Victorian-era drain industry set the course of golf history.

\nThe cup's area represents about 1/50,000th of the total real estate on a typical hole. That's 2,500 times smaller than the bull's-eye on a dartboard. The 4 1/4-inch hole puts a huge premium on putting, the most boring stroke, at the expense of shotmaking, the essence of the game. So while a 95-percent-perfect 5-iron is a great shot, a 95-percent-perfect putt is just another miss. How fair is that?

\nIf you're a good golfer, you hit driver 10 to 12 times in a typical round. You swing your 6-iron maybe twice. And you putt 30 to 40 times. Which is why every golf outing, from your Tuesday foursome to Sunday at the Masters, is a snooze-inducing putting contest.

\nI'm with old-timer Harry Vardon, who said, "Truly the putting has too great an effect on the results...." I'm with Gene Sarazen, who campaigned for a bigger hole 70 years ago. The Squire was right: A hole more like a bucket would speed the pace of play (fewer 100-shooters grinding over three-footers) and reward pinpoint iron shots¬óreal golf shots.

\nThink about it: When was the last time you heard a caddie say "great golf shot!" when you drained a putt?

\nSarazen thought the hole should be eight inches across. That sounds about right. Smack a wedge to 10 feet, tidy up your putt, make way for the next group.

\n"The short putt is not so much a golfing stroke as a matter of nerves," wrote R&A captain C.K. Hutchison a century ago. "If the diameter of the hole were increased...short putts would lose their terrors." Hutchison was right. If the full swing matters more than the tap-in, then the hole should be at least 6 inches across. That way, the plumb-bobbers in the group ahead of me might finally get off the green, and I might drain my first 10-footer since 1999.

\nKevin Cook is a contributing writer. He has never made an 11-footer.

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