Widening the hole would make the game more fun and speed up play

Widening the hole would make the game more fun and speed up play

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.

The 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?

If 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.

I’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—real golf shots.

Think about it: When was the last time you heard a caddie say “great golf shot!” when you drained a putt?

Sarazen 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.

“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.

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

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