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golf ball roll back

Will my golf ball travel as far? Here’s what roll back means to you

The R&A and USGA have announced the golf ball is going to travel less for every golfer. But what does that specifically mean for club players? We take a look…

 

The big bombshell news is official. Your drives will be getting shorter. Your golf ball won’t be travelling as far as it once did.

The R&A and USGA have announced a decision to roll back the golf ball at every level of the game – from the World No. 1 to the average club hacker.

They’ve done this by updating the conditions they use to test whether golf balls conform and they say they’ve done it to “reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimising the impact on the recreational game”.

Ever since murmurs of this surfaced, the golf world – and particularly social media – has been alive with speculation as to how it will affect players and, particularly, those of us not gifted enough to tee it up at the highest levels of the game.

The two governing bodies have tried to answer some of these questions in a joint statement outlining the changes and here are some of the key findings…

Golf ball roll back: What’s coming and how is it going to affect club golfers?

What is happening?

In 2020, the R&A and USGA released their Distance Insights Report, which said longer distances and longer courses was “taking golf in the wrong direction” and hurting the game.

In March 2023, they proposed a Model Local Rule that would allow competition organisers to require “use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impact of hitting distance in golf”.

It was intended to be used in elite male competitions only, with the R&A and USGA stressing it would have “no impact on recreational golf”.

But it would have split the game, with pros and elite amateurs using a different ball to club players. There was opposition, from the likes of the PGA Tour and PGAs, and the governing bodies have returned with these new plans.

They say their decision will “reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimising the impact on the recreational game”.

golf ball roll back

How will it work?

The R&A and USGA will update what’s known as the “testing conditions for golf ball conformance under the Overall Distance Standard (ODS).”

The ODS was introduced in 1976 and then updated in 1980, 2002, and 2004. The current standards set were based on the longest hitters nearly 20 years ago. It’s limit is 317 yards with a 3-yard tolerance.

For those of you who enjoy numbers, the revised ball conditions will be as follows: 125-mph clubhead speed (equivalent to 183 mph ball speed); spin rate of 2220 rpm and launch angle of 11 degrees.

The current conditions are set at 120 mph (equivalent to 176 mph ball speed), 2520 rpm with a 10-degree launch angle.

An analysis of ball speeds among golf’s longest hitters this year revealed the fastest ten players had an average ball speed of 186 mph, while the average ball speed of the fastest 25 was 183.4 mph (the very fastest averaged 190 mph).

Cut to the chase, will I still hit the ball as far at my club?

Probably not. While the R&A and USA have repeatedly stressed a desire to protect the club game, and say their decision will have a “minimal distance impact”, they are forecasting a reduction in drive distance of “5 yards or less, for most recreational golfers”.

That’s based on research showing an average swing speed of 93mph for male golfers and 72mph for female players.

What will happen to the golf balls I’ve got now?

You’ll still be able to use them for the foreseeable future. The changes outlined don’t take effect in the professional game until January 2028 and the R&A and USGA have said balls that are listed as conforming in 2027 can continue to be used by “recreational golfers” until January 2030.

They added that a “significant portion” of balls that are currently on the market – “and more than 30 per cent of all golf ball models” – are expected to remain legal for use after the changes are applied.

What have the R&A said?

Martin Slumbers, R&A chief executive, said: “We are convinced that this decision is one of the key ways of achieving a sustainable future for golf, protecting the integrity of the game and meeting our environmental responsibilities.

“The measure we are taking has been carefully considered and calibrated while maintaining the ‘one game’ ethos deemed to be so important to the golf industry.

“Importantly, it also keeps the impact on recreational golfers to an absolute minimum. We are acting now because we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy the unique challenge of golf as much as we do.”

What do the golf ball manufacturers say?

Initial responses indicate they’re not that impressed. A Titleist spokesperson said: “We do not believe this is in the best interests of the game. We don’t agree that there is a distance problem in the game. We do believe the game is thriving and hope to support the continued energy and enthusiasm around golf.”

David Abeles, TaylorMade Golf CEO, said: “As a brand that prioritizes improving product performance for golfers of all skill levels, the decision to proceed with the golf ball rollback is disappointing.”

Now have your say

What do you think about the golf ball roll back coming in for all players? What do you think of the R&A and USGA findings of how it will affect club golfers? Why not let me know your views with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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