The heads of the R&A and USGA have explained that the golf ball bifurcation plans will help protect the game’s future as driving distances continue to increase.
The driving distance debate has rumbled on for years, with many of the game’s key figures having their say on the issue, and several proposals mooted to address the concern, with the risk of courses becoming too small as players hit the ball further.
Explaining the proposal, that’s something USGA CEO Mike Whan says is vital they address sooner rather than later. He said: “If we simply do nothing, we pass that to the next generation and to all the golf course venues around the world for them to just simply figure out.”
Whan’s counterpart, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers, backed him up, saying golf’s long-term integrity is at stake. He explained: “We’ve crossed the Rubicon with regards to where hitting distance is but more importantly where it is trending, and it’s our responsibility as governing bodies to propose change to protect the long-term integrity of our sport.”
Under the proposal, a new Model Local Rule would allow competition organisers to enforce a rule that ensures competitors play golf balls that go shorter than the current legal models used by pros and amateurs alike. The change would be made to the clubhead speed of its testing procedure – from 120mph to 127mph, but retaining the ‘Overall Distance Standard’, or a limit the ball can travel of 317 yards.
Slumbers explained the move is necessary given the relentless increase of distances over recent years. He said: “We’re not so much trying to solve a problem today; we’re trying to solve where we believe it’s going, and there is no doubt in our minds that the game is going in that direction, and will continue to move upwards. There is no evidence in history to prescribe otherwise.”
Whan reiterated the point, while also saying that the issue is likely to be back on the table in the not-too-distant future. He said: “The kind of distance impact we’re talking about is probably going to last 12 to 15 years before we’ll be right back to where we are now, given historical trends. We’re not suggesting that we’re taking the game to a place that it hasn’t been recently and that we won’t be right back here in 15 years.”
The plan hasn’t received universal approval, with equipment manufacturer Titleist describing it as “a solution in search of a problem.” Nevertheless, each had words of encouragement for the doubters.
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