The confusion in the matter of arranging matches would be indescribable. As an instance, let me relate a little experience. At one time I played many games with an amateur who had the shortest swing I ever saw. He was a fine sportsman, and as pleasant an opponent as I have met, but I cannot truthfully say that I admired his style. It was like the action of a man cracking a whip "underhand," so to speak. He simply took the club back a little way, and gave the ball a sharp tap. He hardly ever missed a shot, but, of course, with the gutty he could not get sufficient distance. I could give him a stroke a hole and a beating. When the Haskells came over from America, he was among the few who obtained early supplies at huge prices. Those were the times when a Haskell was cheap at a sovereign. He brought a sample out to play me one day, and I soon discovered that, using a gutty, I could hardly give him a third. He played me many more games with this difference in the ball still prevailing, and he, with a third, beat me as often as I beat him.
He subsequently distinguished himself in open scratch competitions, and was finalist in a county championship. This may be an exceptional case (the rubber-core suited the style of my erstwhile opponent even better than that of the average player), but it affords an indication of the chaos that would prevail if we had some players employing the rubber ball and others suffering in the cause of difficult golf with the gutta-percha article.
No, deeply as I grieve at the passing of the gutty, I do not see how it is to be reinstated, even to the limited extent of its being made a standard ball for championships. The rubber-core is established, and nothing can shift it without creating fresh embarrassment. It has had one useful effect. I believe that it has been responsible to some extent for the enormously increased popularity of golf. By making the game easier, it has flattered many people into the belief that they are better players than is the case, and that they can master the finer points of the pastime in a period which, in due course, they discover to be hopelessly insufficient for the purpose. That may be good or bad, according to the point of view. In the sense that it affords greater enjoyment for the majority, it is good. In the sense that it does away with the old incentive to deep thought and consummate skill, it is bad. Golf will never be an easy game, nor will it ever again be quite the game that it was before the rubber-cored ball made its appearance.
Personally, I am convinced that while the scores are getting lower, as they must do with a ball that affords such help, the standard of golf in general is deteriorating. I have put down that remark not merely as the result of a sudden inspiration. I have held the opinion for several years, and expressed it to friends. Nothing has happened to justify an alteration in my belief. Wherever I have gone, the same evidence of a falling-off in the intrinsic quality of the golf has been manifest, and it is attributable to the influence of the rubber-cored ball. For one thing, players have become careless. The miss is sometimes better than the hit; and everybody is aware of the fact. There was wisdom in the remark of one of my opponents who had topped his mashie stroke to within holing distance: "Any old shot will do nowadays." All too often it will do remarkably well. In the time of the gutty, a player knew that if he perpetrated a bad stroke, he would be punished. He would be short, or, if his ball reached a bunker, it would not jump the hazard. The knowledge that there was no mercy for those who erred impelled him to be careful.
There was only one way to play every shot; it had to be played properly. With the present ball there are several ways of obtaining the desired end, and, what is worse, a good stroke is not infrequently ruined by the resilient ball lighting on very keen ground and bounding away into all sorts of trouble.
I can recall plenty of instances where, in succeeding rounds, I have played at a certain hole shots that seemed to be identical. But while one has been a success, the other has been a failure. There was a case in point in the German open championship at Baden-Baden in 1911. I won the competition all right, and I am not complaining about the incident, which was of the kind from which we all suffer in turn. I offer it as one among many proofs that might be given of the freakishness of modern golf. At a short hole I pitched to what was evidently the right spot; for the ball ran up close to the pin, and I got a 2. In the next round, I made what appeared to be an equally good shot, but the ball struck such ground that it stopped short of the plateau green. For no apparent reason it went over the green from the second shot, and I escaped with a 6! Nemesis may not always be so brutal as that when you misjudge a carry by a yard, but it often happens that a stroke is either gained or lost through no extra clever or extra bad play.
I have declared that the game is deteriorating, and I have made the statement with such assurance because I feel that I can tell by my own golf. I was fortunate enough in 1911 to gain the open championship and a nice lot of other contests, but I am absolutely certain that the actual quality of my golf was four strokes a round worse than it was with the gutta-percha ball. I say this in all sincerity, after considering fully just what is meant by a difference of four strokes in eighteen holes. The scores, of course, were lower (in the ordinary way you can hardly help doing a round with the rubber-core that is low by comparison with a gutty ball return), but as regards the real value of the play, my own has deteriorated to the extent indicated. That being so, the falling-off must have been general, or I surely should not have won anything. Perhaps I happened to have nothing but good fortune, although I cannot remember enjoying more than a fair share of it.