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According to Titleist, the No.1 ball in golf, the announcement that golf’s elite events could include a Model Local Rule (MLR) as early as January 2026 will set the game back 30 years.
Today, in a joint press conference that could have seismic repercussions for the game, the USGA and R&A effectively rolled back the golf ball.
They said the move would have no impact on the ‘majority of golfers’ and that it was aimed at elite players, ensuring golf got back to being a game of skill.
In effect, this is bifurcation: tour players use one set of equipment while amateurs use another.
And that has not gone down well with Titleist, the brand behind the Pro V1, the best-selling ball in golf.
In a lengthy statement, the standout comment was that the golf ball industry would suddenly be transported back to the 1990s.
“Under the proposed guidelines, events that adopt this MLR would require players to use a substantially shorter golf ball, similar in distance to what was available in the 1990’s,” Titleist said in a statement.
“The performance changes of any rolled back ball would impact every shot in the round. Players would also be required to adapt to changes in equipment with some players disadvantaged over others by this disruption.
“Golf ball bifurcation would invite confusion as to what level of competition would use the MLR products and how to effectively manage and officiate. In addition, multiple versions of golf ball models in the market would be confusing to golfers.”
David Maher, the president and CEO of Acushnet Company, was quoted in the statement as saying that bifurcation was not the answer, because the scoring average on tour had “remained virtually flat”.
Maher said: “Golf is an aspirational sport, and we believe at its very best when equipment and playing regulations are unified. Golf’s health and vibrancy are at historically high levels. As we see it, existing golf ball regulations for Overall Distance and Initial Velocity are highly effective.
“During the past two decades, PGA TOUR average course playing length has increased by less than 100 yards and scoring average has remained virtually flat. Average PGA TOUR clubhead speed of 114.6 mph in 2022 was well below the current 120 mph and proposed 127 mph testing conditions. The proposal of golf ball bifurcation is in many respects a solution in search of a problem.”
The statement also said: “One of golf’s unifying appeals is that everyone in the game plays by the same set of rules, can play the same courses and with the same equipment. Golfers can watch professionals and compare themselves to the world’s best, aspiring to hit the same shots.
“This unification links the professional and recreational games, enriches the connection and viewing experience of the professional game, and contributes to golf’s momentum, unprecedented growth and promising future.”
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers was at pains to stress that today’s announcement was not about curtailing the prodigious distances of today’s players but rather protecting what may transpire in the future.
“This is not about today,” he said many times in an hour-long address to the industry. “It is about protecting integrity and that golf is a game of skill.”
Interestingly, when asked about the rough road the bodies might have to go down in the coming months, USGA boss Mike Whan said he did not have an “answer to the challenges” the organisation may face. He also said neither the R&A or the USGA had spoken to the PGA Tour or DP World Tour about adopting the MLR.
The duo did reveal that, in discussion with the stakeholders involved, it was decided that limiting the performances of drivers was not viable as this would immediately impact the role of 3-woods, then 5-woods and, subsequently, impact every club in the bag.
Without saying it implicitly, the golf ball is the scapegoat of golf’s desire to prevent distance gains.
In a separate statement to bunkered.co.uk, Callaway said: “We are studying the information and proposals provided. We have no further comment at this time.”
You can read the full Titleist statement on today’s events HERE.
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