Spin, Pitch, Push: Deconstructing Disc Golf Putting Terms

I shared a key component to accurate and consistent putting in a recent post. The title of the post, The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, provides a pretty big hint to the nature of the tip. It also indicates that I intended to add at least one more complimentary post, and I do. But comments on social media convinced me to write this one first.

Part of the post was an explanation of why the ‘straight line’ approach to disc golf putting works regardless of a player’s preferred putting style. Push putt, spin putt, pitch putt, I wrote- it doesn’t matter. I also included a very brief explanation of those terms for readers unfamiliar with them, and those definitions became the focus of most of the feedback I received.

I decided to dig a little deeper into what others have said and written about pitch, spin, and push as descriptors used to explain putting techniques in disc golf. One thing became clear (or, rather, unclear): because there is no ultimate authority on disc golf terminology they mean different things to different people. Rather than cite a variety of conflicting explanations, I’ve decided to simply explain what they mean to me, and why.

Before I go into each of the three terms, I’ll start by listing three key points:

  1. Each player’s standard putting technique is unique to that player.
  2. The three terms defined below are not putting techniques or putting ‘styles.’ They are components that can be and usually are combined to one degree or another.
  3. Most players have a standard putting form for routine putts (defining ‘routine’ as inside the circle, relatively flat and not obscured) and therefore a standard mix of two or three of the 3 components. But non-routine putts call for the components to be mixed in different proportions.

Not only does each player’s putt feature its own unique blend of mechanical components. That blend can and does change from putt to putt depending on the situation. It’s a fluid thing. Keep that in mind as you read the definitions below.

Push Putt

This term is used to describe a player propelling a disc forward in a straight line at the target from a spot close to the torso (anywhere from waist to sternum). A couple similar movements used in other sports would be the thrust in fencing and the jab in boxing. Paul McBeth provides a good example in this video by Jomez Productions. Go to the 5:57 mark, and note how the motion of the disc is all straight forward- no arc, no sideways movement, even at the end.

PITCH PUTT

The pitch putt may be so named because of its similarity to the motion used when ‘pitching’ horseshoes. Like the push putt, an accurate and consistent pitch putt requires the player to keep the disc on a straight line from beginning to end (release and follow-through). Unlike the push putt, the player typically starts the putt at knee-height or even lower and often maintains a straight arm and locked elbow throughout. Because of the low starting point the trajectory of a pitch putt is also almost always steeper (low to high) than a push putt, which especially for power putters can be almost flat.

“Pitching horseshoes,” photo courtesy of Missoulan.com.

SPIN PUTT

The term ‘spin putt’ is probably the least accurately descriptive of the three. Spin, after all, is a critical element of any putting technique except the rarely seen end-over-end ‘flip’ putt. A more accurate label for the technique known as the spin putt would be ‘fling putt’ or ‘flip putt.’ There are two things that differentiate this putting method from the two listed above:

  1. The putt finishes with a rotational flipping motion, similar to that uses to ‘toss’ a Frisbee. Original Frisbees used to come with the slogan “Flip flat flies straight.
  2. Unlike the push and pitch putts, most or all of the power/thrust of a pure spin putt comes from this flipping motion. “It’s all in the wrist,” as they say, and in this case it’s true.

This gets back to the reason I wrote the post The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting, Part 1, in the first place. The wrist flick that defines so-call ‘spin putting’ is the easiest way to generate power while facing the basket. It is the most difficult, however, when it comes to achieving a reliable, consistent release point.

Nate Doss prepares to execute his signature eye-level spin putt. Photo courtesy of AllThingsDiscGolf

Sure, some top pros have have had success with it (Nate Doss and Steve Rico come to mind). but they are the exception to the rule. Why? Because when the wrist-flip supplies most of the power, the motion of the disc leading up to the release point follows an arc rather than a straight line.

To see what I mean, check out this very recent clip from Jomez Productions’ coverage of Simon Lizotte at the 2019 Pro Worlds. Go to the 32:00 mark, and watch the slo-mo replay of Simon’s spin putt. He finishes by following through straight at the target after the disc is out of his hand, but the motion leading up to the release is clearly more of a rotational wrist-flicking nature.

Now go back and watch the Paul McBeth clip linked above and you’ll see the putting motion and the exaggerated follow through both staying on the same line directly at the target. The disc can’t help but following that straight line, and this isn’t a given with a spin (AKA fling AKA flip) putt.

I know, sticking to this straight line while also generating sufficient spin is tricky. I’ll address how to do just that in the next post, Part 2 of The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting. Stay tuned!

Basket size on the pro tours: What’s the REAL issue? I’ll tell you.

By Jack ‘Tupp’ Trageser

Where do you stand on The Great Debate about basket size on the pro tour? The subject has been debated extensively- on YouTube last year via a DGPT roundtable, more recently in a PDGA magazine article by course design guru John Houck, and in thousands of discussions among elite players and their fans.

So what’s your opinion?

To recap, those in favor of shrinking baskets think top pros are just too good at putting using the current disc entrapment devices. They believe this has two negative effects on disc golf as a spectator sport: scores that are so low to par that outside observers scoff at disc golf as a professional sport, and a lack of drama on the putting green. Putts inside the circle for touring pros almost always end up inside the basket.dischitschains (2)

Some pros are opposed to the change, for an understandably self-interested reason- Putting is not their strong suit and they don’t want that weakness to be further magnified. But others make more practical points. If targets are smaller, they contend, players will lay up from longer distances more often, robbing spectators of those twisting, floating, outside-Circle 2 gems that provide some of disc golf’s best spectacles.

Others question the practicality of retrofitting thousands of existing courses and the wisdom of having pros compete with markedly different equipment than the fans who would have, could have made that shot.

Good points on both sides of the argument, right? So what do YOU think?

I’ll tell you what I think. The issues that the Basket-Shrinkers raise are real, but smaller targets and less made putts won’t ‘solve’ them, if indeed they even require solving.

I wrote a book called The Disc Golf Revolution, and much of it involves comparing and contrasting disc golf and traditional (ball) golf. One of the first chapters, titled The Future of Golf, makes the point that disc golf features nearly all of ball golf’s appeal yet none of its numerous drawbacks. You know that list: Cost, time to play, difficulty, history and culture of elitism, environmental impact . . .

DGREV_Book_Cover_BUILD_FINAL

I bring this up now because at the end of that chapter, per my training as a journalist, I presented the other side of that argument in a ‘devil’s advocate’ section subtitled 7.5 Reasons Why Ball Golf is Better Than Disc Golf. One of those 7.5 reasons is the undeniable fact that disc golf does not – and cannot – replicate the incredible contrast featured in ball golf between the speed and distance of a powerful drive and the delicacy, the breath-holding drama of a long, slow, undulating putt.

A 30-foot putt in ball golf might last for 30 second as it rolls slowly across the green, while a 30-footer in disc golf is over two blinks after it leaves the player’s hand. Unless it ends in a roll-away, that is, which ironically makes for some of disc golf’s most dramatic moments. What do those slow, serpentine, excruciating rollers resemble? That’s right. Ball golf putts.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama because they go in too often, but rather because they go in too quickly.

Disc golf putts inside the circle don’t lack drama in pro events (compared to ball golf) because they go in too often, but rather because they go in – or don’t – too quickly. That is never going to change, no matter how small and challenging baskets are made to be. It is what it is, and really, that’s OK.

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Photo by Leah Jenkins.

Another point I make in my book is that disc golf’s greatest value is as something to DO. This is evidenced by the sport’s continued strong growth in new courses, players, and market size. As disc golf participation grows, the segment of the overall disc golfing population who choose to also be spectators and media consumers also grows. They’re watching in large part because they can relate to what they’re seeing. Disc golf may not feature the drawn-out drama of a ball golf putt, but disc golf spectators (nearly all of whom are also avid players) feel the anxiety of a 30-foot putt. As easy as they can appear, we know how easy those putts are to miss. We know the very real potential for anxiety, fatigue, or a momentary lapse of focus.

So now you know what I think. Give it a try if you want, PDGA and DGPT. Use smaller baskets for some top-tier pro events. You’ll get tougher-scoring courses, and putts inside the circle won’t be quite as much of a foregone conclusion. But it won’t change the real issue, which is the unalterable fact that disc golf putting – as something to watch – isn’t and will never be quite as dramatic as ball golf putting.

Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal. Those of us who play know there is plenty of drama and challenge when you’re the one doing the putting, and in my opinion that is what really matters.

What do you think?

The Straight Line on Disc Golf Putting- Part 1

By Jack Trageser

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You’ve heard that before, right? It’s true of many things, including – in the figurative as well as the literal sense – disc golf putting.

If you’d like to transform yourself from an inconsistent putter who is frustrated by frequently missing putts your peers seem to make all the time (Point A), to someone known for their solid, consistent putting game (Point B), this ‘Straight Line’ tip might get you there quicker than any other adjustment you can make.

More than any other part of the game, putting is all about precision and accuracy. If you miss your release point by even a few degrees it could very well result in a missed putt- even on very short attempts. The best way to prevent this from happening is to keep both the disc and your hand on a rigidly straight line from the time you start the take-back until after the disc leaves your hand (the follow-through).

The bottom line: Eliminate the left-to-right movement in your putting form, and you’ll greatly reduce your left/right misses. Just like that!

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Figure 1

Figure 1 is obviously a diagram using crude symbols, but it’s a good thing to visualize if you choose to practice this key ingredient to consistently accurate putting. Another option is to imagine a narrow tunnel barely the width of your disc running between you and the basket. Your objective as you take the disc back then launch it forward should be to keep the disc and your hand from hitting the sides of the tunnel, holding onto it until your arm is stretched as far as it can toward the target.

Why It Works

The reason this tip works so well is simple. A disc pulled back and then propelled along a straight line will begin its flight heading in the exact direction at which that line points. Assuming your aim is true, all you need to do is open your hand when your arm is stretched as far toward the target as it will go, then keep reaching with all five fingers for a half-second more.

Whether you prefer the ‘Push,’ ‘Spin,’ or ‘Pitch’ putting technique; whether you use an ‘In-Line’ or a ‘Straddle’ stance, the straight line principle works and is embraced by nearly all top pros. Want proof? Do a little research on YouTube and you can easily spot the effort to keep the putting hand on the line toward the basket even after the disc leaves the hand. Paul Mcbeth and James Conrad provide obvious examples. Watch Ricky Wysocki and you’ll see that the straight line is even more essential to successful pitch putting.

Contrast that with a short ‘toss’ or ‘flip’ where your hand and the disc travel in an arc. Because the movement isn’t directed in a straight line headed toward the target, accuracy depends on releasing the disc at just the right moment. Too early and you miss ‘short-side.’ Too late and you pull it wide. As diagrammed in Figure 2, a variance in your release point of less than an inch can result in completely missing the target.

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Figure 2

To further drive home the importance of keeping putts on ‘the line,’ let’s explore the fact that putting in disc golf has very little in common with throwing. Contrary to what most beginners and a surprising number of more seasoned players seem to think, putting isn’t simply a backhand throw modified into a short, soft toss.

The differences begin with the stance. For a right-handed backhand throw, a player’s feet are typically positioned with her toes pointing roughly 90 degrees to the left of the target. All standard putting methods, on the other hand, call for the player’s toes to be pointed, and shoulders squared, directly at the target. This is for a reason; It allows the player to pull the disc back and bring it forward on the same line as her line of sight- something that aids greatly in aiming. To help understand this, think of how we aim in archery or with firearms- with an eye peering directly down the line of flight.

Unlike rifles and longbows, however, in disc golf it’s up to us to provide both the aim and the momentum that ensures the projectile heads directly at the target. It’s not as simple as pulling a trigger or releasing an arrow. The line of sight advantage only matters when the disc is kept on that same straight line until it leaves your hand.

Why It Can Take Some Work To Get It To Work

Keeping your disc on a true straight line provides greatly improved accuracy and consistency, but the tradeoff is a restriction on power generation. It gets easier and more natural with practice and repetition, but holding the line can be hard at first. This is why even players who normally demonstrate proper straight-line form sometimes pull their putts wide when attempting shots at the edge of (and especially beyond) their range.

Up Next: How To Make It Work

I’ve made my best argument for why eliminating the left/right movement from your putting form is the secret to improved accuracy and consistency. Hopefully it seems logical enough that you want to start working on it right away.

As I mentioned earlier, it most likely won’t be an instant transformation. You may struggle to generate spin, power, or both. In Part 2 of this post I’ll provide specific details that should help, complete with a practice technique and a couple video demonstrations. To make sure you know when it’s out, follow this blog on WordPress and our School of Disc Golf and Play DiscGolf Facebook pages.

Think a run-up always equals more distance in disc golf? Not so fast!

When we watch a full-power drive performed by someone who can really huck it, the ‘run-up’ is a big part of the show. Whether it’s a literal running start or a couple smooth strides, and whether the technique used is an X-step/scissors step or crow-hop, that bodily forward motion appears to contribute greatly to distance the disc travels. But does it, really?

The short answer is no. The large majority of the power that translates to long disc golf drives comes from arm speed, maximized by hip/torso/shoulder rotation. The ‘run-up’ adds only marginally to that equation, resulting in between 5-15 percent more distance. And that’s only IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) everything is coordinated and timed perfectly.

Yet the run-up seems so necessary to power generation that nearly all developing players incorporate it into their drives from the very beginning. And that is usually a big mistake. It takes a high level of athletic coordination, plus LOTS and lots of practice, to use a run-up and still maintain control and consistency like these top pros. (Note that while their form may vary from player to player, they all have the main ingredients in common- especially the perfectly timed and balanced weight transfer. Even though the body is moving forward, the weight stays back until precisely right millisecond.)

The physical side of disc golf is as much about control as it is power. More, actually, because the harder you throw in the wrong direction, the farther the disc can go in the wrong direction. And if you play on tight, wooded courses it doesn’t matter how hard you throw; Miss that gap and your disc ain’t goin’ nowhere! Well, nowhere good, at least. Golf in all its forms is first and foremost a game of accuracy, precision, and consistency.

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Standstill drives with perfect form and timing beat ill-timed run-up drives every time. Note how this player’s disc and weight transfer from back to front foot (which is mostly lifted off the teepad) appear perfectly in synch. Photo by Jack Trageser.

When I’m giving private lessons (with the exception of pros and top amateurs who already demonstrate a solid grasp of proper driving technique) I insist on starting with a stand-still throw. No run-up. No steps at all except for a back foot toe-drag on the follow-through. For details check out this post I wrote several years ago titled “Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique.” It is still one of the most viewed pages on our website.

I decided to write this particular post after reading a testimonial from a recent client. You can read his full comments here if you like, but the most relevant snippet is shown below.

“I’ve been playing for about 2.5 years and understood I had built some bad habits but did not have any clue as to how to go about identifying and fixing them.  Jack broke proper form down to very simple and understandable mechanics, and over the course of 3 hours, I found myself throwing from a standstill almost as far – and much more accurately – than I had before.” –John J., Berkeley, CA

Here’s the bottom line: To maximize your power potential with a backhand drive in disc golf you need to focus on the following, in order of importance:

  1. Engage your major muscles (as opposed to throwing with your arm only) through rotation of your hips and shoulders
  2. Perfect your timing and weight transfer. Keep your weight back until a fraction of a second BEFORE you launch the disc. NOTE: This is the part that most often goes awry when a player tries to incorporate a run-up too soon.
  3. Speaking of launching the disc . . . at just the right time, with all that coiled energy held back, unleash it with an explosive burst. Going from zero to 60 as quickly as possible is what creates the armspeed that is essential to power and distance
  4. Finally, when you’ve mastered the first three, slowly integrate a run-up by starting slowly. The important thing is to keep your timing and release point intact.

(Once again, to learn more about making sure the disc goes where you want it to go, read this post for more details on backhand form). The above list addresses power generation only)

I recommend throwing backhand drives exclusively with the standstill technique for at least a month so that once you add a run-up you’ll know instantly when the timing is right and when it isn’t. You’ll likely suffer a loss of accuracy and control at first, so it’s best to experiment during fieldwork and rounds that don’t matter.

Remember that a run-up itself only increases your driving distance marginally. It’s the other three elements listed above that really help players make big strides in not only distance but accuracy and consistency as well. Good luck, and happy chuckin’!

 

This week in disc golf GROWTH news

We go out of our way to share news stories that cover disc golf growth at the local, grassroots level for two good reasons. Grassroots growth is the secret sauce for a sport that is spreading like a virus despite almost no corporate funding, and, amazingly, no other disc golf media talk much about it.

On January 2nd tusconlocalmedia.com published a comprehensive piece listing what their reporters believe will be the biggest stories in that region in 2019. Near the top is a theme that is all too common these days, a public (taxpayer funded) golf course that is losing more than $1 million a year. Who wants to bet they’ll be adding disc golf sometime soon? The same story mentions a new course coming to the El Rio Preserve in Pima County. If you live in Oro Valley, help them connect the dots!

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If you’re near Blaine, WA, check out this new course added in 2018. Photo credit: Chris Garvey for The Northern Light

From Blaine, WA, right on the Canadian border, a similar “Year in Review” article published in The Northern Light lists the installation of a new course in Lincoln Park, stating “Residents and visitors can now enjoy the Blaine disc golf course in Lincoln Park, an 18-hole championship-style course that is free to use and encourages outdoor recreation and tournament-style play.”

A weee bit to the south, in Crossville, TN, a story that focuses on whether the town council should market itself as more than “The Golf Capital of Tennessee,” the real news (as far as we’re concerned) is buried near the bottom. The council is raising funds to build a #newdiscgolfcourse and should be ready to begin soon. If you live in Crossville, get in touch with them and let them know you’re excited- and maybe offer to help!

“The sports council has been raising funds to add a disc golf course at Meadow Park Lake and expects to soon move forward with that project.” –Heather Mullinix, Crossville Chronicle

In LaJunta, CO, a story detailing the city’s extensive Trails project, kudos are given for the installation of another new course. According to the story by Bette McFarren, “Also helping with the continued development of Anderson Arroyo, said (Parks and Recreation Director Brad) Swartz, is the popular Disc Golf Course installed in 2018.” Judging by the picture accompanying the story, the course replaced a previously neglected open space and now provides exercise and recreation for numerous residents. Have any of our readers played this one yet?

Finally, here is a story from Bowling Green Daily News about local business leaders in Logan County, KY wanting the county to purchase a golf course that is for sale and turn half of it into a park (leaving 9 holes of the golf course intact).

“According to Ray, the proposed plans include a disc golf course, baseball fields, tennis and volleyball courts and a splash park.” –Jackson French, Bowling Green Daily News

Their plan calls for the park to include a disc golf course, so here’s an extension of that idea. Build the park and disc golf course, and on the remaining 9-hole golf course, add disc golf to that as well. The county would suddenly be able to offer a 36-hole disc golf complex- a sure tourism draw these days when done right. If you know someone who lives in Bowling Green or Logan County tell them to pitch the idea right away. The people to talk to are listed in the story.

 

Last week’s best example of grassroots disc golf growth comes from Cape Cod

With apologies to Paul Mcbeth and his impressive ESPN coverage in the past year, local disc golf clubs still get my vote as the MVP (most valuable part) of disc golf’s inexorable expansion. It’s as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. The increased visibility of our pro tours and the increase of disc golf-related businesses (more companies, more disc models, etc.) is due to a strong, steady rise in the number of people who play the sport.
  2. The steady rise in the number of people who play the sport is mostly due to a steady rise in the number of places where disc golf can be played. New courses, in other words.
  3. A large majority of disc golf courses in the world today exist only because a club lobbied for its installation and did/does the heavy lifting/grunt work- for example, the fundraising, maintenance, and community relations.

The chapter of The Disc Golf Revolution titled “Disc Golf’s Organic, Grassroots Growth offers dozens of examples, but this post focuses on one that is unfolding right now.

In Sandwich, which is part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the #CapeCodDiscGolfClub is going above and beyond (which is typical behavior for a disc golf club) to get a new course installed on the Boyden Farm Conservation Lands. According to Tao Woolfe’s excellent reporting, the club submitted a proposal a year ago but pulled its request because the environmental impact report wasn’t completed in time. But when it was finally completed, results backed disc golf in a big way.

“The study ultimately showed that disc golf would not hurt wildlife or forested habitats. Natural Resources Director David J. DeConto said at that time that the environment would actually benefit from the new course.” –Tao Woolfe, The Sandwich Enterprise

Andrew McManus, president of CCDGC, submitted a plan promising the club would “prune the course annually, clean up any storm damage, design and create the course through the trees—keeping and maintaining the existing mature trees and thinning the underbrush.” It went on to say that volunteers (would) also clean up litter, help enforce park rules, and place signage and an information kiosk, and host golf clinics to teach people how to play.” Woolfe’s story added the fact that the club has performed similar volunteer maintenance at Burgess Park in Marstons Mills since 2011.

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Disc golf clubs are also all about fun and competition. This is the team representing my home club, DeLaveaga Disc Golf Club, against 15 other clubs at the NorCal Team Invitational Match Play event.

The people who lead disc golf clubs and push to get new courses installed don’t do it for personal gain. To me, that makes their sport’s grassroots growth not only more special and pure, if you will, but also less likely to taper off. They put in the hours and raise the funds because they want more opportunities to do something they love, as evidenced in the photo above. They want it for themselves, to be sure, but they are also eager to share the experience with others.

 

As ball golf courses struggle, disc golf fills the void

Contrasting the rapidly expanding number of disc golf courses in the U.S. with the, uh, relative ‘shrinkage‘ in ball golf is one way to measure the unstoppable ascension of The New Golf.

Both Steve Dodge and I have publicly predicted that the number of disc golf courses in the U.S. will overtake traditional golf venues in the near future. Mr. Dodge wrote about it on the DGPT blog, and I addressed it a couple of times in my book. In both cases we considered the two types of courses as mutually exclusive- in other words, they are either one or the other. A growing trend, however, is changing the math in a BIG way.

If we’re comparing facilities that offer ONLY ball golf to all the parks, open spaces, AND commercial venues where permanent disc golf courses exist, our seemingly aggressive predictions of eight and five years may turn out to be conservative.

And you can guess why, can’t you?

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The basket of Hole 11 of the disc golf layout on DeLaveaga Municipal Golf Golf in Santa Cruz, CA sits perilously close to a sand trap. Traps and greens are typically one-stroke hazards in disc golf.

Public ball golf courses are dropping left and right. More often than not they operate at a loss these days, and those that try to remain open are desperate to attract new patrons. Enter disc golf, a sport headed in a decidedly different direction. This story from the San Diego Union-Tribune offers a perfect example.

San Diego runs multiple public golf courses, but only the famous Torrey Pines complex with two championship 18-hole tracks turns a profit. The rest of them are subsidized by the city. Balboa and Mission Bay, which according to the article lose a combined $2 million each year, felt compelled to attract a new breed of golfer. For a relatively minimal investment they added disc golf and footgolf, and (no surprise), usage at both courses has spiked.

“The spikes in usage at Balboa and Mission Bay have been partly attributed to upgrades, including new foot and disc golf courses added to each and a greater focus on the quality of course conditions.”  -David Garrick, SD Union Tribune

A quick Google search yields plenty of other examples, like this one from Ceres, CA, and another from Tuscon, AZ where the city council recommended more desperate measures- with disc golf still the end goal.

The article from San Diego also mentioned some details on how much it costs to operate a traditional golf course. According to Garrick, energy and water costs for all San Diego public courses are expected to rise this year from $2.1 to $2.6 million, with personnel costs rising from $4.3 million to $4.6 million. Their overall budget will approach $20 million!

So is it realistic to think that within a few short years the number of disc golf-only courses in the U.S. combined with the number of ball golf/disc golf hybrid courses will be greater than the number of ball golf-only courses? Sure seems like it.

We’re trending that way already, as budget-strapped cities and municipalities are figuring out that disc golf courses require a tiny fraction of the overhead needed to keep a traditional golf course playable, in addition to requiring far less land.

What do you suppose will happen when it also becomes common knowledge that the average taxpayer these days is more likely to embrace the easier-to-learn, quicker-to-play, less expensive, and less environmentally impactful version of the game?

Get ready for The New Golf. It will eclipse the old, obsolete model, much sooner than you think.