Wilco Nienaber (RSA), one of the longest hitters on the DP World Tour. Image Credit: Supplied

The world’s golfing authorities could soon be addressing the discussions of distances, both Pros and Elite Amateurs, are hitting the golf ball, resulting in perhaps some golf courses not being appropriate and arguably obsolete for tournament competition at the highest level.

A glance at the DP World Tour 2023 statistics shows Wilco Nienaber (RSA) the longest average hitter at 358.34 yards from 16 rounds with 137 players breaking the 300 yard barrier with Dubai based Adrian Meronk (Pol) number 137 with an average of 300.21 yards from 17 rounds.

While great attention is given to club technology, rules makers, the Royal and Ancient and United States Golf Association (USGA) are now turning their attention to the golf ball.

Recreational golf

They are proposing the introduction of a ‘Model Local Rule (MLR)’ which would give competition organisers the option to require players to use only balls tested under modified launch conditions and that meet maximum distance criteria.

It would have no impact on recreational golf.

“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years,” Martin Slumbers, CEO of The R&A, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances. Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon.”

Notice of the proposal was sent to golf equipment manufacturers this week and they have been invited to provide feedback by August this year.

The PGA Tour issued a statement in response to the announcement, saying it would continue to ‘work closely’ with the R&A and USGA but would continue its own analysis.

If adopted, the proposal would be effective from 2026.

To conform to the MLR, golf balls will have to 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 127 mph and based on a calibration set-up for 11 degrees and 2,220 rpm.

All other balls, including those typically used by recreational golfers with lower swing speeds, would continue to be tested on existing ALC values.

The R&A says that over the last 20 years, average hitting distance has increased by one yard per year.

Reduce distance

It says the proposed MLR testing set-up would potentially reduce the distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.

“We have worked closely with the golf industry throughout this process and taken time to listen carefully to their perspectives and reflect on the helpful and constructive feedback they have provided,” Slumbers said.

“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.”