These days, pro golfers are hitting the ball far. Really far. And it’s creating a bit of a problem, mainly because the modern-day golfer can reach the hole with fewer shots than before, meaning older golf courses are becoming obsolete.
What causes golf balls to travel further?
Over the past 50 years and following the “Tiger Effect”, professional golfers are stronger, the golf clubs are more advanced and the golf courses are in better condition. These have all played a huge role in making the ball travelling further. But there is one major factor, which affected the evolution of the game of golf. The ball itself.
The modern-day golf ball is a marvel of science and engineering. While golf balls have maintained the same relative size and shape over the centuries, their design, composition and the surface have undergone radical changes. Let’s have a look back in time.
With these distances “spoiling” what the original game of golf was set out to be, 12 months ago The R&A and USGA reacted by announcing two “Areas of Interest” to tackle the issue.
“Potential changes to the testing methods for golf balls” and “Model Local Rules — Club performance”. Fast forward to the present day and they have kept their word on this amendment.
What are the new changes?
In a recent statement from The R&A and USGA, “a Model Local Rule (MLR) gives competition organisers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impact of hitting distance in golf.
“The MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and will have no impact on recreational golf. The proposal notice was sent to golf equipment manufacturers, following the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures established by the governing bodies in 2011. If adopted, the proposal would take effect in January 2026.”
“Golf balls that conform to the MLR must not exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus three yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127mph and based on a calibration set-up for 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2220rpm) as part of this proposal.
“All other balls, including those typically used by recreational golfers with lower swing speeds, would continue to be tested using the existing ALC values (120mph, and a calibration set-up of 10 degrees and 42 revolutions per second — 2520rpm). The current ODS limit of 317 yards will remain unchanged and would be applied to both testing set-ups.
Bifurcation of rules
“The modified testing set-up in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with highest clubhead speeds.”
Acushnet Co., the company that makes Titleist — the golf ball that has long dominated the market — spoke out against the proposal, and said “bifurcation of the rules would cause a divide between the elite and the recreational players and add confusion.”
The ruling bodies said the Model Local Rule would not apply to the women’s game because golf courses still have room to accommodate their increases in distance.
Multiple versions of golf balls
“The proposal of golf ball bifurcation is in many respects a solution in search of a problem,” said David Maher, president and CEO of Acushnet. He said some players would be affected differently than others in adapting to a shorter golf ball, and that multiple versions of golf balls on the market would lead to confusion.
So, as an amateur golfer you can still “hit bombs” but on the professional side there has been varied reaction by some of the big names in the game.
What do the golf pros think?
Over the last couple of weeks at the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship and LIV Golf Tucson there were varied opinions on the changes with some choice words for golf’s governing bodies.
Rory McIlroy: “For elite level play, I really like it. I really do,” Northern Ireland’s world No 2 told the ‘No Laying Up’ podcast.
“I’m glad in this new proposal that they haven’t touched the recreational golfer. I know that’s a really unpopular opinion among my peers, but I think it’s going to help identify who the best players are a bit easier.
“For me, the major championships are the biggest deal, so if the PGA Tour doesn’t implement it, I might still play the Model Local Rule ball because I know that that’ll give me the best chance and the best preparation leading into the majors.”
“Innovation is a part of every sport, it’s a part of every industry,” he said. “But whenever that innovation outgrows the footprint of the game, that’s when I think we have a problem.”
Justin Thomas: “I feel like, decisions and things that the USGA has done in the past when it comes to rules or what not and data. I mean, what is it, using 127-mile-an-hour clubhead speed? Like, if you can swing 127 miles an hour, like, power to you. I mean, people are running faster, so, what, are they just going to make the length of a mile longer so that the fastest mile time doesn’t change, or are they going to put the NBA hoop at 13 feet because people can jump higher now?
“It’s evolution. We’re athletes now. Like, we’re training to hit the ball further and faster and if you can do it, so good for you. So yeah, as you can tell, I’m clearly against it. If I can hear some reasons that claim it’s better for the game of golf, then so be it, but I’ve yet to hear any.”
Bryson DeChambeau: “It’s a great handicap for us guys that have worked really hard to learn how to hit it farther,” he said. “Look, I think it’s the most atrocious thing that you could possibly do to the game of golf. It’s not about rolling golf balls back; it’s about making golf courses more difficult.
“I think it’s the most unimaginative, uninspiring, game-cutting thing you could do. Everybody wants to see people hit it farther. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people like what I do. It’s part of the reason a lot of people don’t like what I do.”
Padraig Harrington is another player to come out in favour of dialling back the golf ball. The 51-year-old Irishman led the PGA Tour Champions in driving distance last year, with an average of 308.7 yards off the tee — more than 10 yards farther than his closest competitor, Scott McCarron.
“There’re so many winners by rolling back the ball, or rolling back the equipment,” Harrington told on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio.
“In terms of cost — the cost of building a golf course, the cost of maintaining a golf course, the speed of play is going to be incredibly improved by reducing the distance, by reducing the size of the golf course and also reducing the amount of waiting time on par-5s and par-4s.
“There’re so many benefits to rolling it back. Old golf courses come back into play, great golf courses come back into play. Environmentally, reducing the footprint. So many reasons to roll it back. Dangerous! It’s really dangerous. Golf balls go so far.”
Time will tell if the changes will go ahead as there is still a lot to sort through with manufacturers. Sounds like the rest of the golf world does too.