By Brian O’Hare.
WHILST controversy continues to rage about the latest R&A and USGA report showing a spike in driving distance on the world’s pro golf tours it turns out that sneaky “big hitting” club golfer C graders are the real problem.
The R&A and USGA released their now annual combined distance report this week saying an “unusual and concerning” distance increase across the seven world pro tours monitored warranted “closer inspection”.
The “spike” they are concerned with in the pro ranks in 2017 was around 3 yards, as opposed to the recent trended “slow creep” increase of just 0.2 in 2015 and 2016.
What many in the golf world are expressing their deep concern about is that modern equipment, particularly golf balls, are resulting in ever increasing driving lengths and that is putting many traditional courses in danger.
As the official report says:
“Increases in distance can contribute to demands for longer, tougher and more resource-intensive golf courses at all levels of the game. These trends can impact the costs to operate golf courses and put additional pressures on golf courses in their local environmental landscape. The effect of increasing distance on the balance between skill and technology is also a key consideration. Maintaining this balance is paramount to preserving the integrity of golf.”
The R&A and USGA are so concerned about the situation that they’ve pledged to give it some more thought, while bodies like the US PGA Tour and the PGA of America have already dismissed the findings as largely inconsequential.
The Acushnet company, who many accuse of starting they whole thing when they introduced the market leading Titleist Pro V1 golf balls, was also dismissive of the impact of the new numbers.
“In any given year there are variables that impact distance, and any movement as in 2017 is not suddenly indicative of a harmful trend,” Chief executive and president David Maher said, proposing that different courses used and measured each year meant different stats.
But while all eyes were on the pros, under our always very useful life motto: “Never trust a C Grader”, we drilled down in the report to see what the amateurs were up to.
It turns out that while the pros are being lambasted for their 3 yard gain, the 21 handicap and over brigade have a recorded average drive increase of a massive 22 yards.
That’s right, the sneaky C graders have been untucking their shirts and blasting it out an extra 22 yards whilst all the attention has been elsewhere.
To put their performance in a little perspective, the increase has been recorded over a 21 year period.
And before you maybe start a movement to have C graders permanently banned from your club – a no doubt noble exercise – there is another salient variable.
Back in 1996 when amateur male club golfers first began being tested at a number of UK venues the male 21 plus handicappers were using their actual drivers just 54% of the time. (The 6 and under handicappers used their drivers over 90% of the time).
The average drive in 1996 by C graders was just 164 yards. Probably due to the continued development of more forgiving drivers by 2017 the C graders were much more confident and using drivers 93% percent of the time – and thus their big jump to a 188 drive average.
The average driving distance for the amateur ‘club’ golfers measured in 2017 was 208 yards (up from 200 yards in 1996), with 89% of the shots overall hit using a driver. (There is a C grader out there somewhere hitting the drives of 301 yards and messing up the stats).
A study of the driving distance of female amateur ‘club’ golfers commenced in 2013 and in 2017 showed an average drive of 146 metres.