The R&A and USGA have announced their intention to develop and explore a number of solutions to bring to an end the “continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths”.
Outlining the conclusions from their Distance Insights Project, which they launched in May 2018, the two bodies described the increases in hitting distances as “undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future”.
In a joint statement, they said: “These continuing trends have also helped create an unnecessary degree of emphasis on distance, with a seeming expectation that each new generation of golfers will hit a golf ball farther than before.
“We believe that a golfer’s hitting distance is fundamentally relative to hole length and the distance of those he or she competes against; golf’s essential character and skill challenge do not depend on the absolute length of a golf shot or a golf course, and golf does not become a better game each time distances and course lengths increase.”
Whilst stopping short of implementing any immediate changes to either the game’s rules or the manufacturing guidelines for new equipment, the R&A and USGA have announced a broad review of both clubs and balls in order to understand and assess a full range of options.
This review is expected to include the potential use of a Local Rule option that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances.
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The concept is that equipment meeting a particular set of reduced-distance specifications – for example, a ball that does not travel as far or a club that will not hit a ball as far – might be a defined subset of the overall category of conforming equipment. This could allow committees that conduct golf competitions or oversee individual courses to choose, by Local Rule, whether and when to require that such equipment be used.
They will also be reviewing the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances.
This is to consider whether any existing specifications should be adjusted or any new specifications should be created to help mitigate the continuing distance increases but it is not currently intended to consider revising the overall specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game.
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The bodies are now inviting input from manufacturers and other interested parties to help them develop a set of plans for going forward. It is expected that this gathering of input will take as much as year, after which, if there are any rule changes proposed, manufacturers will receive notice of these proposed changes.
The also intend to pursue other topics, including
• Reviewing equipment-testing processes, protocols and standards to ensure their effectiveness in relation to distance limits;
• Assessing and providing guidance on how golf course design, agronomy, maintenance and set-up can affect hitting distance; and
• Assessing and providing guidance on the availability of short enough forward tees and the appropriate tee-to-hole playing distances for golfers of all levels.
“We believe that it is time to break the cycle of increasingly longer hitting distances and golf courses and to work to build a long-term future that reinforces golf’s essential challenge and enhances the viability of both existing courses and courses yet to be built,” they added.
“Our views have evolved as events have unfolded and new information has become available, just as they may evolve in the future, and we believe that it is never too late to do the right thing for the future of the game.”