Golf’s ruling bodies have said it is time to rein in the increasing distances players are hitting the ball, a trend they assert is detrimental to the game.
The ‘Distance Insights Report,’ released jointly by the US Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal & Ancient (R&A) on Tuesday, leaves the door open to a “bifurcation” of the rules which could lead to elite and recreational players using clubs and balls manufactured to different regulations.
The report said that since 2013, the average driving distance on the US-based PGA Tour and European Tour has increased at a rate of about one yard per year, now averaging 294 yards.
Top women have shown a similar rate of increase, now averaging more than 250 yards on the LPGA Tour.
Such distances can reduce the strategic challenge of many courses, for example by allowing players to avoid the danger of a deep bunker not by accuracy but simply by smashing their drives over the potential trouble.
“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,” the report said.
“In reaching this conclusion, we recognize that some have the view that the governing bodies might have done more in addressing the implications of the continuing increases in hitting distances and course lengths.
“Our views have evolved as events have unfolded and new information has become available ... and we believe that it is never too late to do the right thing for the future of the game.”
‘We have a problem’
Some of the world’s most famous courses are being overpowered by players.
The Old Course at St. Andrews has been rendered almost toothless in calm conditions with many professionals able to reach several of the par fours off the tee.
At Augusta National, home of the Masters, the club has bought surrounding land to give itself the option of lengthening the course but it is running out of room to go beyond the hole extensions already made in recent years.
The report also said the bodies “... will assess the potential use of a Local Rule option that would specify use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances.
“We will also review the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls.
“The intended purpose of this review is to consider whether any existing specifications should be adjusted or any new specifications should be created to help mitigate the continuing distance increases.”
The governing bodies said they planned to conduct further research and get feedback from manufacturers over the next year or so before deciding upon any changes to equipment regulations.
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis told Reuters it was difficult to get everyone in the golf business on the same page.
“This may not be easy but all of us unanimously feel, particularly after getting the data and seeing how clear it is, that something does need to get done,” Davis said by telephone.
“At this point, we just want to disclose that we’ve got a problem the game needs to solve together.”