The constantly rising distances that the world’s best golfers are striking is a worrying sign for the future of the sport. That is the verdict of one of golf’s key officials, USGA Chief Mike Davis.
The impressive technological advances that golf club manufacturers and golf ball produces are introducing to the market each year has helped stars on the PGA and European Tours tame golf courses like never before.
In some ways, gone are the days of plotting your way around golf courses with clever club selection. Now it is a ‘grip it and rip it’ mentality, with drives in excess of 350 yards being the normal from the leading names in the game. Just last month, world number one Dustin Johnson twice drove the green with 430-yard and 433-yard drives at the Sentry Tournament of Champions as he turned a par-4 into a par-3 on his way to victory in Hawaii.
Advances in equipment
Courses aren’t getting longer at the same rate at which the equipment manufacturers are seeking out added distance. And that is a major worry for Davis, who expressed his concerns for the long-term future of the game in an interview with SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio.
“We do not think that distance is necessarily good for the game,” Davis said. “The issue is complex, it’s important and it’s one that we need to, and we will, face straight on.
“What has happened over the years is that as we’ve innovated equipment, what has transpired over the past 100 years is that golf courses have had to expand. New golf courses require more acreage, not only to build a golf course but to maintain a golf course, to walk a golf course, to play a golf course—it takes more time.”
Expanding golf courses
Tiger Woods, for one, has talked previously of golf courses used on tour expanding to beyond 8,000 yards—something that might well have to happen to tame the increasing distances. But with that comes the age-old problem of the amount of land available. And for historic courses like Augusta, host of the US Masters, and the Old Course at the home of golf St Andrews, it simply isn’t possible to lengthen the course any more than has already been done.
It is a problem—a tricky one at that—which Davis and his fellow rule makers and decision makers in golf will have to tackle head on.
“We look at it and as we look to the future we’re asking ourselves saying, ‘We want the game of golf to be fun, we want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what score you should shoot versus the equipment’,” he added.
“We acknowledge that this new equipment where it’s easier to play the game, more enjoyable to play the game, is great for golfers and we all want that equipment. Just purely from an enjoyability standpoint, we all want to increase distance.
“[But] we want to make sure that we have a game people can enjoy, we want to make sure that the game is sustainable.
“We look at other sports and say they haven’t had to change their arenas. Tennis courts are the same size as the tennis court was, football fields haven’t had to go to 130 yards in length, the basketball courts are the same, the soccer fields are the same—you’re not watching stadiums get changed because of equipment.