The Guardian’s Lawrence Donegan on the brewing battle between a golf industry monolith and those who prefer their balls un-juiced.
October 11 will be a happy birthday for the world’s most popular golf ball, the Titleist Pro V-1, but also a troubled one. Five years after it was unveiled at the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas the ball accounts for more than one in every four sold in the United States – a success rate that allows its manufacturer to dominate a $1bn-a-year market.
That is the good news for the birthday boy. The bad is that the Pro V-1 now finds itself in the middle of a civil war over the future of the game. In one corner stand the traditionalists, who argue that balls like the Pro V-1, which travel much farther than their predecessors, are destroying the game, rendering some of the great courses obsolete and removing the strategic subtleties that give golf its appeal. In the other stand companies like Titleist, who claim there is no conflict between their commercial interests and the interests of the game.
This being golf, the war is fought with at least a degree of etiquette. But spend an hour or two scanning the golf web sites and trade magazines and you will find a debate as passionate as any Ryder Cup match. Under normal circumstances one would expect the manufacturers to prevail. They are richer and more powerful than the likes of Geoff Shackelford, a Los Angeles-based course architect who writes a highly respected blog and is one of the manufacturers’ fiercest critics. “People like me are but flies on the backside of companies like Titleist,” he says, but he is being modest, not least because the debate appears to be swinging towards those demanding change.