Titleist chief Wally Uihlein: Power-game era is the result of six major factors

November 30, 2017

On Nov. 19 the Wall Street Journal story ran a story under this headline: “Golf Weighs Big Shift to Reduced-Distance Golf Balls.” In the story, Mike Davis, the executive director and CEO of the USGA, said: “I don’t care how far Tiger Woods hits it. The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game. The impact it has had has been horrible.”

After reading the story, I had a brief back-and-forth email exchange with Wally Uihlein, the longtime CEO of the company that makes Titleist balls. That exchange resulted in a letter from Uihlein, part of which we have excerpted here:

Since the Golf.com site now contains a disclaimer from the USGA suggesting it is “distance” in general and not the “golf ball” specifically that is cause for golf’s current state of horribleness, I guess all of this back and forth is moot.

I would have thought by now we have effectively established that the “Power Game Era” is the result of six major contributing forces: thin face, oversized titanium drivers; low-spinning, solid core, high performance golf balls; the physiology of today’s professional golfer; improved technique and instruction; mobile launch monitors and customization of equipment; improved golf course conditioning and agronomy.

And if not but for the golf course developer and architect-inspired “Yardage Race Era,” there might not have been a “Power Game Era.” The golf media never seems eager to ask who made the decision in the 1960s to construct 7,000-yard “championship” golf courses. The first Golf Digest ranking (1966) was actually called “The Toughest 200 Golf Courses in America.” Seventy-five of them were over 7,000 yards and three of them were over 7,700 yards. Why weren’t golf courses built in 1960 to 2000 like [1882] Myopia Golf Club, 6,000 yards and walkable? You cannot blame it on the Titleist Pro V1. That product was not introduced until 2000.

As Billy Joel would say, “We did not start this fire.”

PGA Tour purses in 1996 were approximately $80 million. In 2016 the total purse money exceeded $300 million. The PGA Tour needs improving? I do not remember seeing that question in the most recent Golf.com survey of PGA Tour player attitudes and observations.

The PGA Tour is an entertainment product. I am sure if Commissioner Jay Monahan begins to see declining total “eyeballs” (traditional mediums, digital mediums, etc.), then he will take the appropriate action since the PGA Tour purse-stream is tied to the attractiveness of the aforementioned entertainment product.

I am attaching the presentation deck, which is must-reading if you want to understand our position and provide some balance to what, to date, has been imbalanced coverage.”

In my exchange with Uihlein, I also asked for his reaction to my idea of rolling out a limited-flight ball for the majors. You can read that piece and Uihlein’s response here.