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USGA & R&A to Address Increases in Distance

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The USGA & R&A are to make moves to futureproof the game and secure its long-term future by addressing an “undesirable” increase in average distances.

Distance Insights Project reveals concerns

The R&A and USGA have undertaken a Distance Insights Project and the results have shown significant cause for concern… and the need to make changes to prevent technological advance having even more impact.

Results of the study revealed that average driving distances have increased at one yard per year since 2013. To underline that case, the 20 longest hitters on the PGA TOUR averaged more than 310 yards in the 2019 season.

While the results of the project accepted that increased athleticism of golfers in the modern day game have resulted in the increased distances, the R&A and USGA are to look at how they can halt any more gains in distance which they label as “detrimental to golf’s long-term future”.

Drive distances are compromising length of golf courses

The report by the USGA & R&A said: “The research shows that hitting distances and the lengths of golf courses have been increasing for more than 100 years. We believe that this continuing cycle of increases is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future.

“The inherent strategic challenge presented by many golf courses can be compromised, especially when those courses have not or cannot become long enough to keep up with increases in the hitting distances of the golfers who play from their longest tees.

“Increased hitting distance can lead to a reduction in the variety, length and creativity of shot types needed on such courses and to holes more often being overpowered by distance, as well as to an increased emphasis on the importance of distance at the expense of accuracy and other skills.

“This can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about using a broad range of skills and making risk/reward judgements during a round.

“The result is also that an increasing number of such courses, both widely renowned and less well-known, are at risk of becoming less challenging or ultimately obsolete for those who play from their longest tees – a serious loss for the game.

“The overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has its own adverse consequences that ultimately affect golfers at all levels and the game as a whole. Expanding existing courses and building longer new ones often requires significant capital investment and higher annual operating costs.

“Overall, the trend towards longer courses puts golf at odds with the growing societal concerns about the use of water, chemicals and other resources, the pressures for development restrictions and alternative land use, and the need to mitigate the long-term effects of a changing climate and natural environment.

“In our view, 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.”

How will the USGA & R&A proceed in a remedy?

How will the distance problem be fixed? In short, by looking into the technology of clubs and balls to discover just how each are impacting.

The Equipment Standards teams and Committees will “be conducting a broad review of both clubs and balls to understand and assess a full range of options for addressing these issues relating to hitting distance” and make recommendations.

That could involve introducing rules regarding the type of balls that can be used in competitions, what type of clubs are legal with the option “to help mitigate the continuing distance increases” although the report concluded that should a move was not currently being considered.

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