Golf to act on the “profound impact” of increased hitting distance: review of club and ball standards proposed

golf tee shot

AFTER studying the long term detrimental impacts of increased hitting distance golf’s governing bodies have declared action is needed to secure the game’s future.

The R&A and The USGA have issued a 90 page Distance Insights Report and other material which provide sober reading for everyone involved in the great game.

As well as the effect any proposed changes in equipment standards or other distance measures might have on the big-hitting pros, there is also the critically important consideration on the effect on ordinary amateur golfers.

The R&A and USGA say their report is the result of comprehensive research and analysis on the contributors to, and long-term impacts of, hitting distance in golf.

They say it features more than 100 years of data and is informed by a library of 56 supporting documents. There is also a 15-page conclusions paper from the governing bodies that summarises their perspectives on the long-term implications for the sport.

Key findings

Key findings of the project include:

  • There is a 100-year trend of hitting distance increases in golf, as well as a corresponding increase in the length of golf courses, across the game globally. The R&A and the USGA believe this continuing cycle is detrimental to the game’s long-term future.
  • The inherent strategic challenge presented by many golf courses can be compromised, especially when those courses have not or cannot become long enough to keep up with increases in the hitting distances of the golfers who play from their longest tees. This can lead to a risk of many courses becoming less challenging, or obsolete. 
  • Increased hitting distance can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.
  • If courses continue to lengthen, it is at odds with growing societal concerns about the use of water, chemicals and other resources.
  • Longer distances and courses, longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary for a challenging, enjoyable and sustainable game.
  • A concern has been identified that many recreational golfers are playing from longer tees than is necessary relative to their hitting distances and, in particular, that the forward tees on many golf courses are very long for many of the golfers who play from them.

Pivotal moment in the history of golf

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We believe we have reached a pivotal moment in golf.

“The publication of this report is highly significant. The impact of long-term hitting distance increases on some of golf’s essential elements are now clear – including changing the strategic challenge of the sport, altering the balance of skills needed to be successful and risking courses being less challenging or obsolete.

“Our objective as governing bodies is to work with the key stakeholders in golf to address this issue in a way that brings the sport together and which ensures it continues to thrive for many years to come.”

Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA, said, “This is not about the last few years or the next few years but rather about the long-term future of the game,”

“This report clearly shows a consistent increase in hitting distance and golf course lengths over the last 100-plus years. These increases have had a profound impact on costs to build, modify and operate golf courses and they have impacted golfers at all levels.”

We believe this problem will continue unless this cycle is brought to an end. With collaboration from the entire golf community, we have an opportunity to stem this tide and help ensure golf remains sustainable and enjoyable for generations to come.”

Broad review, inlcuding potential changes in Equipment Rules

The R&A and The USGA say no solutions have been determined as yet and that they will now enter the next phase of their work by assessing potential solutions that can help end the cycle of increased distance.

They say it is expected the main topic for research and assessment will be potential changes in the Equipment Rules, along with further enquiry into the effects of course design, conditions and setup on hitting distance.

“With this background in mind, a broad review of both clubs and balls will be conducted to understand and assess a full range of options for addressing these issues relating to hitting distance.”

They say without limiting the scope of topics that may be considered, this review is expected to include the following:

  • The review of overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. It is not currently intended to consider revising overall equipment specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game.
  • The assessment of the potential use of a Local Rule option specifying the use of reduced-distance equipment. Such an option could be available as a choice at all levels of play for competitions, courses and individual players.
  • Guidance on the availability of short enough forward tees and the appropriate tee-to-hole playing distances for golfers of all levels.
  • Several other topics including equipment testing processes, potential guidance on how design, agronomy and set-up can affect hitting distance, and others.

The bodies say all research and any work regarding potential changes to Equipment Standards in golf are guided by the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures, which were agreed upon and published by The R&A and the USGA in 2011 to ensure a transparent and collaborative process among key stakeholders in the game. These procedures can be found here: Equipment Rulemaking Procedures

The reports and library have been publicly released and can be found at randa.org/distanceinsights

To facilitate input from manufacturers and other stakeholders in the golf community, specific topics of further research will be identified and published within 45 days. It is expected that this important step in gathering input could take approximately nine months to one year.

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Brian is an award winning golf writer and is the founder and editor of Australian Senior Golfer. He is a former Sydney journalist who had little interest in golf till he hit his first ball at the age of 49 (and a half). Since then golf has just about overtaken his life. Brian founded ASG in April 2008 and has since covered every Australian Open, Presidents Cups, World Cups and numerous other big men’s and women’s tournaments, spending days inside the ropes with the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Karrie Webb, and many others. He has also played in, and reported on, numerous amateur tournaments, particularly senior and veteran events, around the country. Brian is a member of the Australian Golf Media Association and won the award for Best News Report for 2016 - 2017

1 COMMENT

  1. Brian

    Both my wife and I are very average golfers and wish to state that we have never heard anything so ridiculous as this. Golf has always been a game of skill in all aspects of the game and all golfers recognises that their skill level determines the level that they play the game at. No part of golf is more satisfying than a nice straight long drive. This ridiculous idea will if implemented would be a pivotal point in the destruction of our wonderful game. The percentage of golfers who are able to drive a ball “Long Distances” is miniscule to the total of golfers playing the game.

    No matter how far you can drive a ball the most important attribute of golf still rules your score and that is SKILL to achieve the aim of getting the ball into the hole using the least amount of strokes.

    Throughout the history of humans and participation in all aspects of being humans we have all wanted and tried to be the best at what we do. We all aspire to be that ultimate perfect human able to achieve goals better than all other humans.

    The reality of this is only a very small percentage of us can achieve that.

    To me this suggestion reflects that our members who are responsible for the management of the game are putting the game into serious danger. Leave the game alone.

    Bill Downton

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