Should we ditch long drive competitions?

A rant about long drive competitions… should we ditch them altogether?

I like to hit the ball a long way as much as the next person does. However, I know when the driver should stay in the bag. I decided to play safe on this short par-4. A conservative, thinking-person’s approach to the golf hole. And it felt good, until I hit it.

I nailed the 5-iron straight into the trees on the right. Annoyed, I shoved the offending club back into the bag wishing I had thrown caution to the wind and played a driver after all. Curse you conservative golf brain!
 “Hey, this is the longest drive hole, isn’t it?”. Initially I thought my partner was playing a cruel joke on me, but he was right.
As the salt hit the already large wound, I remembered that the 12th had been appointed the longest drive hole for the day. Long drive competitions are usually played out on long holes or at least on holes where golfers are left with no doubt that the driver is the only option. Nevertheless, today it was a short but not quite drivable par-4, and I was not going to take home the bottle of wine.

Initially I thought the short, narrow hole of choice was to encourage accuracy over brute strength, which would give a slightly larger percentage of the field a chance to win the prize. Because the truth is, long drive competitions are mostly won by golfers that can hit the ball a long way. You only need one of them to hit it straight and it is all over.

I realise that is straight from the book of ‘state the bleedin’ obvious’ but when you think about it, most golfers have more chance of playing Augusta National or dating Ana Ivanovic, than winning the longest drive competition. Only a few gifted golfers have a good chance of winning. Perhaps no more than 20% of the field on any given day. This seems to me, to go against the spirit of the game.
This may be starting to sound like sour grapes, but I should say that I have won a couple of long drive competitions in my time. Not many, but I have taken away a few vouchers when the field is small or erratic enough.
The admiration from fellow golfers was always tempered by the distinct feeling that most of the golfers I had ‘beaten’ were not really in with a chance to win in the first place. It was like winning a competition that was only open to people born on a Tuesday.
Handicaps allow for every skill level of golfer to compete against each other. It levels the playing field and gives us all a fighting chance of winning the plaid jacket, the bottle of wine or pro shop gift voucher. To then go and include a game that excludes most of the field from winning just doesn’t seem right.
Of course, there have been some variations on the long drive competition. Some prizes are awarded to not just the longest drive, but also the most accurate. A much fairer competition in the age of big drivers, but still not exactly a fair playing field.
So I wonder, do we really need this ‘grip and rip’ competition in our corporate, charity and tournament golf days? With all the talk about how far the modern golf ball is going, we aren’t exactly deterring golfers from playing a more shot-shaping, intellectual golf game. Do we really need this extra incentive to hit the ball further at the expense of accuracy and finesse?
Let’s bring in more nearest-the-pin competitions. Maybe one on every par-3 for each grade and ditch the longest drive altogether. Those Bubba’s of the charity golf days get enough pleasure and admiration from spanking the ball a mile, without getting a medal for it as well.
This article originally appeared in Inside Golf where Michael Green writes a monthly column.

5 thoughts on “Should we ditch long drive competitions?

  • September 13, 2012 at 06:31
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    Jeez… it’s no fault of mine someone else can’t get it out past 270… As much much as it’s no fault of mine that muppets can’t hit greens or get the ball off the ground over creeks. Let the prizes go to the good golfers, the ones who put hours in practicing and honing, who spend the $$. Sick of high handicappers always complaining when all they need to do is learn how to chip and putt for a day to come in with 40-odd points.

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  • September 13, 2012 at 06:51
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    Agree with above – The longest drive awards those lower markers with the combination of length and the skill to get it straight. The high handicappers win the day on pointes, no harm in giving some added incentive to the scratchies et al.

    That being said, although it is still somewhat flawed, My club has divisions for the longest drive, 0-12, 13+ to help the leveling of the playing field a little bit.

    You raise a good point thought, when does fair handicapping and competition get a little out of hand?

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    • September 13, 2012 at 07:09
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      Chris, I reckon handicapping will only ever be able to level things out to a certain degree.. Smaller clubs who don’t have the luxury of being able to grade their competitions are worst hit. We all know that put a thirty handicapper up against a 7 and it is infinitely much easier to come in with the 38 points usually required to break even or thereabouts. It’s only levelled in theory. More long drive competitions I say! More NTPs and a short run-down for gross to encourage those few that are actually attempting to lower their handicap!

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  • September 13, 2012 at 08:34
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    I normally would agree but the new h/cap system seems to have taken its toll on long markers winning competitions. Well at least at my club it has.

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