What is bifurcation?

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You may have heard the term ‘bifurcation’ used rather a lot in golf conversations lately. There’s a good chance you’ll be hearing a lot more of it in the weeks and months to come.

But what exactly is it? And what does it have to do with golf?

What is bifurcation?

Bifurcation is defined as “the division of something into two branches or parts”. In applies in many different fields. In geography, for example, bifurcation is the point at which two roads, river tributaries and such like part or meet. In computer science, bifurcation is a command that executes one block or other of commands depending on the result of a condition. It exists in many forms in many places. However, it has become something of a ‘buzzword’ in golf over the last few years.

What does bifurcation mean in a golf sense?

In golf, bifurcation largely relates to the suggestion that the current single set of rules regulating golf equipment could be split in two.

The suggestion is to create one set of equipment restrictions for professionals and top amateurs, and a different set for all other amateur golfers.

In a broad sense, this would result in tighter restrictions on the conforming limits and tolerances of equipment (both golf clubs and balls) used by professionals and top amateurs and, in all likelihood, no change for all other amateurs.

This, as you might expect, is a particularly divisive issue. Here are the cases for and against...

Read more - R&A and USGA report "unusual and concerning" driving distance findings

The case FOR bifurcation

Advocates for bifurcation say that it would help to protect classic golf courses that are becoming ‘endangered’ by the distances that modern professionals are able to hit the ball. Bifurcation would essentially ‘rein in’ the top 0.1% of players without impacting the enjoyment of the other 99.9% of golfers, who cannot hope to generate the same clubhead and ball speeds as the game’s leading pros and who, therefore, won’t hit it as far.


Let’s say a professional and an amateur tee off at the 17th of the Old Course. As it stands, the pro might hit it 310 yards. The amateur might hit it 240. If bifurcation was implemented, the idea is that the pro would hit it significantly less than 310 yards – thereby making the hole more challenging without making any fundamental design or set-up changes to the hole – whilst the amateur will still be able to hit it 240.

The case AGAINST bifurcation

Opponents the bifurcation in golf argue that the concept poses too many problems to be viable.

For one thing, it would cause significant problems for golf equipment manufacturers, who would be forced to make two sets of every piece of hardware they produce: one for pros and top amateurs and one for all other golfers.

It would also raise the issue of who defines where the ‘line in the sand is drawn’ and how.

Most significantly of all, argue opponents, is that it would eliminate one of the game’s most endearing qualities - that of complete beginners and average club golfers being able to play the same courses, under the same conditions and with the same equipment as the game’s top players. That, they contest, is one of the things that separates golf from other sports. Remove that and you remove part of the charm of the game.

What are your thoughts on bifurcation in golf?

Are you in favour or opposed to the possibility of bifurcation being introduced in golf? Leave your thoughts in our ‘Comments’ section below.

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