McGinley demands further curbs on grooves

Paul McGinley and Roger Jones during the planning of Macreddin Golf Club

If Paul McGinley had his way, we’d all be using the traditional V-grooves on tight golf courses with rock hard greens. But this is still the bow and arrow era, as the great Ulster amateur Brian Hoey likes to call it, and McGinley does not believe that the game’s governing bodies have gone far enough in their efforts to put more emphasis on driving accuracy.

The Royal & Ancient and U.S. Golf Association announced a rules change in August 2008, reducing the size and shape of grooves in most clubs from January this year.

It was the first time equipment had been scaled back in nearly 80 years and the change was directed toward elite players to emphasise the importance of hitting the ball in the fairway.

Ironically, McGinley had used V-grooves throughout his career before switching to box grooves last season. So what does he make of the game now that grooves are slightly smaller and have rounded edges instead of sharp edges on wedges through 5-irons?

They have not gone far enough with the grooves,” McGinley said in Rabat on the eve of the Hassan II Trophy. “They’ve gone 20 per cent of where they could have gone. They didn’t go back to the V-grooves that you or I grew up playing with. It hasn’t made a significant difference to the scoring on tour – it’s still been red hot so far this year, that I’ve seen anyway.

“Talking to the guys who’ve played out there, it’s slightly different. Maybe you don’t spin it with a low shot in there anymore. But guys adjust quickly – they’ve learned  how to do it the other way and look at how low the scoring has been. The scores have come down this year, not up.

“That’s one area they could have gone further. The second area is agronomy. I’d like to have seen the game moving towards what they have in Augusta, this SubAir system which basically sucks the air out of the soil so you can get a very firm putting surface within an hour of a thunderstorm.

“For so many years, nobody seems to get the point. In professional golf, we can all control the ball when it goes from A to B but when it starts bouncing out of control, that’s when course management comes into it and that’s when ball-control and good decision-making come into it.

“That’s why a guy a like Tom Watson can nearly win a British Open but he’s got no chances of winning any of the other three Majors. But he can certainly win the Open because course-management, shot-making and decision-making are what the event is all about.”

McGinley has been out of the game since last November after undergoing a sixth operation on his troublesome left knee. Such is the amount of damage his knee has sustained over the past 20 years, he has struggled to recover and will make a tentative first foray onto the European Tour this season over the next two weeks.

He hasn’t been twiddling his thumps at home in London, however, and travelled to Sofia to being work on golf course there. That took up a lot of time when I was off. I’ve got everything in place now so the people are in place to take care of that when I go and visit.  I’ve really enjoyed that at lot.

“I’ve had some business things going on as well. A couple of companies I’ve been involved with are starting out. I’ve worked hard on my fitness and my rehab as well so I’ve been quite busy in the time I was away from golf.”

McGinley’s first move into golf course design was not a happy one with Macreddin Village in County Wicklow running into financial difficulties.

“Macreddin was a big help but I didn’t get a chance to finish it,” McGinley said. “Like most projects in Ireland, the thing ran out of money before it was finished. I’ve likened it to making a cake and not putting the icing on top. It was a big, steep learning curve and I’ve learned a lot.

“In Sofia we won’t have any monetary issues. We’ve got plenty of budget to do what I want to do and I’ve all the people in place. It’s exciting.

“I met the guy on a company day with Rolex. He approached me that night and said he’d a course in Sofia that needed renovating. He heard about me and he’d like me to do it. It’s Sofia Golf Club – the only golf course in Sofia.”

McGinley plans to move into golf course design when he retires, though he is in no hurry to put away his clubs just yet.

He said: “I enjoy it. Some guys are going to go into media; others will explore different avenues but I’ll go into course design. I’ve got very strong views on the game,  as you know.

“We need firm greens. Unfortunately, SubAir is quite expensive but there are other ways of getting greens firm. Agronomy is the way to do it. Good greenkeeping and good grasses and that kind of stuff. It’s something I’ve explored but it’s still in its formative process.

“Subair is very expensive to do. There’s two courses in the world I’ve played have done it – Augusta and Singapore. Within an hour of a torrential downpour, the greens have been rock hard.”

Does it make sense, having limited the grooves, to play on relatively soft greens?

“They haven’t softened the greens. I just think that’s the way greens have gone. So much nowadays is about how a golf course looks and the owners don’t like them looking brown or white on TV and that’s how they look when they’re firm and fast. I’ve watched shots going in this year and they go boom-boom and spin back. With V-grooves it’s not meant to be coming back.”