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LONDON (Reuters) - Former Ryder Cup captain Tony Jacklin has called on golf's ruling bodies to take action over what he describes as the biggest divide that has ever existed between professional players and weekend hackers.
The sport is going through a worldwide crisis with courses closing down and amateurs leaving the game in their droves.
Jacklin believes more par-three layouts need to be built to encourage players back out on to the course and wants to limit the huge distances that top players hit the ball.
"There's never been a bigger divide between professional and amateur golf and I think the golf ball's the issue," the 1969 British Open and 1970 U.S. Open champion told Reuters in an interview.
"The pros are the only ones who really hit the ball in the backside every time and amateurs struggle to do that.
"Also a tremendous amount of golfers around the world are 50-plus. They come to that time in life when they ... get shorter in distance and less physically capable," said Jacklin.
"I think par-three golf offers a great opportunity for the social intercourse that's enjoyed by golfers."
The 70-year-old Englishman, who is redesigning the par-three layout at Magnolia Park Hotel, Golf and Country Club in Oxfordshire (www.magnoliapark.co.uk), said it was not imperative to bludgeon the ball vast distances in order to enjoy the game.
"You don't have to use drivers or metal woods (on par-threes) but you are playing golf and still enjoying playing," said Jacklin.
"You can do so much more in a small area. You can do things in those 20-30 acres that you wouldn't attempt to do on a long course.
"You can make it attractive for juniors, for ladies and for guys like me to play with their grandchildren. It offers enormous benefits."
Long-hitting professionals like Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson regularly propel the ball 350 yards off the tee.
Jacklin, who won twice and tied one of his four matches in charge of Europe's Ryder Cup side between 1983-89, was happy if his drives measured 270 yards in his heyday and wants the golfing authorities to reduce the distances the ball currently travels.
"I'd like to be able to buy a golf ball that goes less far," he said, "a golf ball that goes only 200 yards even if Dustin or Rory hits it.
"That would give us lots more options on par-three courses for example. Instead of hitting wedges you could be hitting mid- irons on holes.
"When the top professionals hit these modern golf balls these days they go forever."
The leading courses around the world are constantly being extended in order to try and limit the advantages enjoyed by the longer hitters but Jacklin believes it is time for golf to consider a radical rethink.
"I'm afraid the game is governed these days by marketing and advertising," he said. "That would seem to be the thing that is pushing the game, they all talk about more club head speed and hitting the ball farther and farther.
"They talk about direction not mattering but we know better of course. I think the top pros are enjoying it, the equipment is so perfect and the balls are so incredibly good aerodynamically but how far can we keep extending these top courses?
"We could do the same thing with half the land if you use a ball that goes less far. I think that's why we are sadly lacking and why so many amateurs are moving to other things to fill their time," said Jacklin.
Bifurcation is an emotive issue in golf but Jacklin hinted that he was in favor of having different rules for professional and amateur players.
"I know there is a reticence to do it," said the Florida-based Englishman. "I've heard Peter Dawson from the R&A allude to the fact they want everyone to play the same game but they put the amateurs behind the eight-ball.
"If you can't get on the green at a par-four in two shots it's not a par-four, if you can't get on a par-three in one it's not a par-three.
"I play with a lot of amateurs these days who are unable to do it because they just don't hit the ball far enough. I think we need to start accommodating these people around the world," added Jacklin.
"On par-three courses you are only out there an hour, not three and a half or four hours. For all sorts of reasons, to embrace par-three courses would be good."
Editing by Pritha Sarkar