Tony Jacklin CBE has never been short of opinions, or been hesitant to voice them. It is such assurance that made him a major winner and a revelation as a Ryder Cup captain. In an exclusive interview with GOLF RETAILING at the PGA Show, the Englishman did not hold back, and here, in the first half of a two-part feature, Jacklin makes a convincing plea on behalf of par-three golf courses
You have to admire Tony Jacklin’s honesty. He is a man who has never seen the point in hiding what he thinks or how he feels. What you see with Jacklin is what you get, which is why he always gives a good interview, and it is also why he can ruffle some feathers along the way. Just ask IMG, former GB&I Ryder Cup captain Brian Hugget, course designer Dave Thomas and just about anyone who has been involved in the administration of the European Tour over the past 40 years.
Jacklin, now 69, has had battles with all of the above, and with many others besides, and when we sat down with him at the PGA Show last month, it was no more than a fleeting moment before the former European Ryder Cup captain directed both barrels towards golf’s governing bodies – namely the R&A and the USGA – for devoting so much time and resource to issues like wedge grooves and anchored putting, when all along the big issue, as Jacklin sees it, is the golf ball, and how far it now travels.
“I am frustrated that golf’s governing bodies have not done more to limit the distance of the golf ball,” starts Jacklin, who first reached international stardom in 1969 when he won the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. “The fact that golf balls fly so far does not make golf a better game. The whole golf equipment industry has jumped onto this band wagon of ‘farther, straighter, longer’, and in a way, every golfer’s weakness is that they want to be better players, because it makes them gullible and they buy into the marketing.
“Because of golf ball technology, we need more money and more land to build golf courses, and we need more time to play a round of golf. Golf is the only great game that has been forced to change the size of its arena in the past century. We can’t carry on building longer and longer golf courses.
“People talk about 12-hole rounds or about making the hole bigger to attract more people to the game, but these ideas are skirting around the issue. The ball is the issue. You can design balls to go different distances, and you could have tournaments where golfers can play off different tees depending on what ball is being used. All of a sudden the game could become so diverse; you could have a men’s tournament off the front tees at Royal Lytham. The players could still use their driver, but the ball wouldn’t go more than 250 yards.”
The odds seem stacked against this kind of direction for golf ball manufacturing, although there is logic to Jacklin’s defence of par-three golf courses. Par-three courses take up less acreage and so maintenance is more affordable; and golfers can play a nine-hole par-three course in an hour so it helps golfers with a busy schedule to fit in a game. The downside with par-three golf today is that a lot of golfers want to step up to the majority of tees during a round of golf and unleash their driver. This is one of the reasons Jacklin ties in ball technology and par-three courses, as a specific golf ball could be developed for par-three golf, which will only travel 200 yards, even if it is smoked off the tee by Bubba Watson. If such a ball were to be developed, then in theory golfers could have the best of both worlds; play a short course but also have opportunities to use their driver.
Par-three golf is particularly close to Jacklin’s heart, and he hosts the British Par-3 Championship at Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire every August.
“At the British Par-three Championship, we have a nine-hole par-three golf course within 10 acres, and what we put on there is unbelievable,” he adds. “We have a tented village, celebrity participants, corporate sponsors and hospitality and it is sold out every year. It is a fantastic success, and the tournament has been going for over 70 years.
“The longest hole is 150 yards and the shortest is 86 yards, and everyone has a wonderful time. It is still the fiddly bits that win golf tournaments – those little shots around the greens. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to look down their noses at par-three golf courses, but I am telling you, par-three courses are the way forward.”