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golf distance report

Golf’s distance debate rages on – so what does it actually mean for you?

The latest golf distance debate brought predictable headlines, but there was plenty in the report relating to the rest of us. We've picked through the pages
 

In the hullabaloo about the pros and elite amateurs hitting the ball too far, what the R&A-USGA Distance Insights Report said about the rest of us was actually just as interesting. The concept of relative distance – that how far a golfer strikes the ball should be comparable both to hole length and the distance of those the player competes against – might seem abstract at first, but it actually hits home hardest at club level.

 

I read it as this: as distances increase and courses get longer so, naturally, does the length required from the tees.

The escalation of power in the elite game has been able to overcome the stretching out of layouts. But for recreational men and women, where the average distances from the tee range from 185-240 yards and 145-160 yards respectively, the experience has been much more fragmented.

That led the report authors to say this: “We believe that many recreational golfers are playing from longer tees than is necessary, which in turn increases the time it takes to play. We have a particular concern that the forward tees at many courses are very long for the hitting distances of many of the golfers who play from them.”

For some of us, that’s going to be difficult to hear. Not only are the tips too difficult, so are the forward tees – the ones that many of us never, ever, play.

The report goes on: “At many courses, the most forward tees are very long relative to the hitting distances of many golfers who typically use them.

“For example, the average and median lengths of the forward tees at US courses are in the range of 5,200 to 5,300 yards.

“As a result, many golfers using these tees may have little chance to reach various greens in regulation even with their longest and best drives and approach shots, and therefore are not offered the same type of playing experience as others on the same hole.”

That, naturally, leads into choice. For many of us, there isn’t one. We sign up to play a competition, for example, and the tees from which we compete are set down in the terms of the event. Whether they are appropriate for our ability is a moot point.

And anyway, clubs might say, isn’t that the purpose of handicaps?

“More generally, we believe that many other golfers are playing from tees that are longer than necessary relative to their hitting distances, either because they choose to do so or because courses specify or recommend use of those tees,” the report adds.

“The result is that such golfers may repeatedly need to hit their longer clubs on approach shots, making it harder to get a good score and taking a longer time to play a round.”

So what could the USGA and R&A do? It will come out following a review of both forward tees and choice. They’re also planning to provide information and guidance on the “appropriate playing length for golfers of all hitting distances and skill levels”.

But to convince golfers to play from tees suited to their ability, especially if those prove to be the most forward, is going to require a big culture shift – of our own mentalities and those of our clubs.

For not only are we being asked to put our egos aside, to spurn the almost intoxicating challenge of taking on the course at its toughest, so clubs may also need to react accordingly.

Could we play the monthly medal from the forward tees? Will we see different tees for golfers playing in the same competition?

That’s all without even considering the implications of what something like bifurcation – clubs and balls that are different for elite and amateur golfers – could mean if ever implemented.

What we can say, though, is that change appears to be coming and it won’t just be about reining in the distance that Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka launch the ball off the tee. It will drip down through the game and affect all of us.

If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below or you can send me a tweet.

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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