A larger hole on golf greens?l

Anyone who's ever fretted over a three-foot putt -- and what golfer hasn't? -- knows how small the hole can look. If it were only a little wider, the thought comes, justice would still be served.

Proposals to enlarge the cup are nothing new, the latest appearing in Golf Digest. Contributing editor Peter Dobereiner has all sorts of fun explaining how he would advance the cause of civilization three-quarters of an inch by widening the hole from 4 1/4 to 5 inches. Laced within Dobereiner's column, though, are several sound arguments.

Perhaps the most cogent of these contends a larger hole would more consistently reward accurate shotmaking. Citing his experience watching professional tournaments, Dobereiner points out that as often as not, it takes a player two shots to "get down," whether on the green 15 feet away, lying in the light fringe, or sitting in a bunker. A wider cup theoretically would enhance a good tee-to-green golfer's chances of making a birdie, while scramblers "would settle to their proper level farther down the list."

Dobereiner feels no "honorable historic basis" exists for maintaining the present hole diameter, which appears to be a rather arbitrary measurement. In changing it, however, logic must not be cast to the wind. To enlarge the cup too much, say to six inches, would eliminate three-putting, a mistake in Dobereiner's opinion.

An argument he doesn't mention, but an important one, is that a bigger hole would speed up play. As it is, many players agonize over what would be tap-ins with a five-inch cup. They may even place ballmarkers on the green rather than putt out immediately, a practice that bogs down play.

Traditionalists no doubt will say you shouldn't tamper with what's a great game already. Perhaps not, but major changes have been made in other sports without spelling their ruination. Pro basketball, for example, has added the three-point basket, major league baseball the designated hitter, and tennis the tiebreaker.

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