USGA, R&A considering equipment rule changes to slow increasing hitting distances

Professional golfers are hitting the ball too far, the game’s governing bodies said on Tuesday, something that is “detrimental” to the future of the sport.

The USGA and R&A released its highly-anticipated “Distance Insights Project” on Tuesday, which used more than a century of data to find that both hitting distance and golf course lengths have increased throughout the game across the world — both at a professional and recreational level.

This continued cycle, they say, “is detrimental to the game’s long-term future.”

“This report clearly shows a consistent increase in hitting distance and golf course lengths over the last 100-plus years,” USGA CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. “These increases have had a profound impact on costs to build, modify and operate golf courses and they have impacted golfers at all levels.

“We believe this problem will continue unless this cycle is brought to an end. With collaboration from the entire golf community, we have an opportunity to stem this tide and help ensure golf remains sustainable and enjoyable for generations to come.”

Why is this a bad thing?

In the last 25 years, per the report, PGA TOUR players have hit the ball roughly 30 yards further across the board.

Per the report, there are a multitude of issues that can arise if hitting length keeps increasing. Golf courses will not be able to keep up should they need to continue modifying and expanding, and it could create an increased need for water, chemicals and other resources to maintain those courses.

The game will also take more time to play, should courses be longer, and the increased distances “can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.”

How do they solve the problem?

While the USGA and R&A did not provide a solution to the problem, the report is the first step. Both groups will now conduct a wide review of potential options to the issue, and will publish specific research topics that will be studied within 45 days. They expect the research could take anywhere from “nine months to one year.”

Potential rule changes could include restricting certain types of clubs or balls that wouldn’t allow them to travel as far. The review is expected to include the potential use of a local rule, too, something commonly seen in the sport at different courses across the world. Having multiple sets of rules, however, isn’t something many necessarily want.

"We are steadfast in our belief that one set of rules is in the best interest of the game for everyone," Davis said in a conference call on Tuesday, via ESPN. "The concept of a local rule — there have been local rules going back to the mid-1700s. The concept is [to] allow golf courses or tournament committees to have more flexibility when it makes sense.

"As we see this, as an example, when you hear the idea of a local rule for the elite men's game ... we're viewing it much more broadly. An existing shorter course might want to adopt this local rule so it doesn't have to lengthen or so make maintenance costs go down and keep the game enjoyable."

The USGA, which oversees the sport in the United States and Mexico, and the R&A, which does the same for the rest of the world, are separate entities from the PGA Tour.

"Since 2003, we have been working closely with the USGA and The R&A to closely monitor distance, and this latest report is an expanded and thorough review of the topic, and others, which are all important to the game,” the PGA Tour said in a statement. “The R&A and the USGA are our partners, and the PGA Tour will continue to collaborate with them, along with all of our other industry partners, on the next steps in this process. We believe the game is best served when all are working in a unified way, and we intend to continue to approach this issue in that manner. The PGA Tour is committed to ensuring any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport."

Golfers across all levels are hitting the ball further and further, something golf’s governing bodies call “detrimental” to the future of the game.
Golfers across all levels are hitting the ball further and further, something golf’s governing bodies call “detrimental” to the future of the game. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile/Getty Images)

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