Golf News

USGA, R&A propose rolling back golf ball for elite players

USGA golf tees

USGA golf tees (David Dusek/Golfweek)

The USGA and R&A frequently update the Rules of Golf and try to simplify the rules that govern the sport. In addition, they have guidelines called Model Local Rules (MLR) that allow tournament organizers flexibility when conducting events.

For example, in 2021 an MLR was created that reduced the maximum allowable driver length from 48 inches to 46 inches. The USGA said it hoped this MLR would only be adopted for events at the elite level, and it is now in place at PGA Tour and LPGA tournaments. However, as an MLR, it does not stop recreational golfers from using 48-inch drivers at their local clubs.

With the proposed MLR on golf balls, the USGA and R&A want to allow events for elite golfers to mandate that players use golf balls that pass the new higher-speed tests – effectively to use shorter golf balls. 

If the proposed MLR is adopted, the earliest it could be used is Jan. 1, 2026, but even if it is adopted by professional tours, it would not mean anything to weekend golfers. At your local club, the MLR will not be in place and the USGA wants you to be able to play any ball you like that has been approved under current testing standards.

“At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a flourishing recreational game,” said Martin Slumbers, the CEO of the R&A. “We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses. This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.”

While some people will see this as bifurcation and the creation of different rules to govern different levels of golfers, the USGA and R&A have consistently stated they do not consider the adoption of MLR as bifurcation. It may come down to semantics, but the reality is that starting in 2026, while you might be able to play the same courses as the pros, the elite pros might not be allowed to use the same ball as you.

The USGA and R&A also have not stated what they consider “elite level” golf to mean. It’s safe to assume they are targeting the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and DP World Tour, but guidelines for the college golf, regional amateur events and club championships have not been provided. This could cause confusion for golfers who compete in different states and on different tours.

There is also no information…


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