Ball And Stick Meets Rocket Science

Golf is supposed to be a simple game: Hit the ball with a stick and knock it into a hole.

And for a long time — as the old equipment in Britain's golf museum shows — it was simple: Wooden clubs and balls stuffed with feathers. After the last feathers were inside, the holes were sewn up.

Now, though, science has arrived — and the old game may never be the same.

It's a special kind of science. You know that phrase that's often used to describe something that's really not that complicated — "it's not rocket science." Well, this actually is, and they've actually brought in a rocket scientist to prove it.

He's Steve Otto, formerly of NASA, who's now doing with golf balls here what he did with missiles there.

"Its very similar," Otto told CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. "There's a lot of aspects of what we do that crosses over to rocket science."

At The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, Scotland, where golf was born, they now use a robot to measure the performance of clubs and balls. A modified missile-tracking system keeps score.

"The speeds are a little lower, but there's enough complication there to keep the supercomputers going," Otto said.

They have to go to these lengths because manufacturers keep coming up with gear that makes the balls go farther — so far that courses are having to be made longer because the pros are making them look too easy.

Even amateurs are getting the benefit — sort of.

Comedian Bill Murray spoke one of golf's essential truths while warming up for a recent pro-am event.



"They can hit the ball farther; it doesn't mean anything," Murray said. "I hit the ball a mile. I am an athlete, gifted. I hit the ball a long way. It doesn't mean I score."

"You've got to be able to make the putts," he told Phillips.

But then, Murray has been a golfing rebel for a long time.

"The same number of people take up golf every year as quit and give it up forever. Do you think changing the ball is going to affect that?" he said, noting that the frustration level stays the same.

"I think we need psychological help more than technological help," Murray said.

That may be why that robot doesn't have a head.