R&A and USGA propose golf equipment changes to combat distance increases

Big news, changes afoot. Professional golf may have to change to suit the golf courses, not the other way around.

Golf’s governing bodies, the R&A and USGA have released a couple of statements indicating they are seriously looking at ways to combat the ever-increasing distances professional golfers are hitting the golf balls.

The large distances tour players are hitting the golf ball has been increasingly concerning for many because of the way many of the great, classic courses are being made redundant in modern golf.

Holes that were designed to test the skill of a golfers skill with a long-iron in hand are being reduced to nothing more than a driver and pitch shot making it increasingly difficult to tease out the best, most skilful golfers in the field.

Large-headed drivers, better golf balls and the increasing athletic ability of golfers are all contributing to the problem and it seems the R&A and USGA now get it.

They’ve proposed to research two key areas.

The first indicated we may see the introduction of a Local Rule than can be implemented to allow a golf club, or tournament organiser to specify particular equipment (balls or clubs) to be used during the course of an event.

We 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. The concept is that equipment meeting a particular set of reduced-distance specifications – for example, a ball that does not travel as far or a club that will not hit a ball as far – might be a defined subset of the overall category of conforming equipment. This could allow committees that conduct golf competitions or oversee individual courses to choose, by Local Rule authorized under the Rules of Golf, whether and when to require that such equipment be used. Such a Local Rule option could be available for use at all levels of play, and golfers playing outside of a competition could also have the option to make this choice for themselves.

This has got The Masters Tournament written all over it – imagine seeing Augusta National being played by the best in the world with a specific Masters golf ball?!

The second proposal concerns changes to golf equipment including club length, golf ball tolerances and driver head volumes.

We will also review the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. 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. It is not currently intended to consider revising the overall specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game.

The key points are summarised nicely at the start of one of the media release:

Research topics include potential Local Rule and review of club and ball specifications to help mitigate continuing distance increases

Proposed changes to current Equipment Standards on club length, test conditions for golf ball testing and tolerances for club spring-like effect to ensure effectiveness in relation to distance limits

The full report statements by the R&A and USGA can be found here and here!

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