The two governing bodies have published new plans to make every golfer in the game – professional or amateur – play a shorter golf ball
The game’s longest hitters will lose 15 yards in driving distance, while club players should expect to be five yards shorter after golf’s governing bodies announced new plans to limit the how far the ball travels.
The R&A and USGA said their decision “aims to reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimising the impact on the recreational game”.
Tee shots for the average professional tour player will be reduced by 11 yards. An average LET or LPGA player will see their drives travel up to seven yards shorter, while, for club players, the impact for most will be “five yards or less”.
This will be achieved by updating the testing conditions used for golf ball conformance under what is called the Overall Distance Standard. It will come into effect from January 2028.
But club players will be able to use their existing balls until January 2030 to “give golfers, manufacturers and retailers additional time to adjust”.
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.”
Mike Whan, USGA chief executive, added: “Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term.
“But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option – and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take any appropriate action now.”
Golf ball roll back: “This decision is one of the key ways of achieving a sustainable future for golf”
Back in March, the R&A and USGA 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 effectively bifurcated the game, with professionals and elite amateurs playing a ‘tournament ball’ and club players using existing equipment.
During a consultation period on the changes, though, a host of organisations – including the PGA Tour, PGAs, and even England Golf – expressed concerns. That has led the governing bodies to re-examine their plans – and introduce a golf ball roll back for everyone.
When news of the new proposals emerged last weekend, the game was quickly split – with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods among those most in favour and Keegan Bradley leading the faction labelling the plans as “monstrous”.
Golf ball roll back: How will the test be carried out and what will it mean for existing golf balls?
The governing bodies said research showed an average swing speed of 93mph for male golfers and 72mph for female players.
They added a significant portion of golf balls currently on the market, “and more than 30 per cent of all golf ball models submitted for conformance across the game”, were expected to remain conforming once the changes had been applied.
The R&A and USGA also reported they would expand the testing approach to better detect ‘driver creep’, which can result in them exceeding legal limits, and added they would “continue to monitor drivers and explore possible additional options related to distance.
“Specifically, we will research the forgiveness of drivers and how they perform with off-centre hits”.
On the specifics of what is coming, they said: “The revised ball testing conditions will be as follows: 125mph clubhead speed (equivalent to 183mph ball speed); spin rate of 2220 rpm and a launch angle of 11 degrees.
“The current conditions, which were established 20 years ago, are set at 120mph (equivalent to 176mph ball speed), 2520rpm with a 10-degree launch angle.
“The revised conditions are based on analysis of data from the worldwide tours and the game over several years and are intended to ensure that the ODS (whose limit will remain unchanged at 317 yards with a 3-yard tolerance) continues to represent the ability of the game’s longest hitters.
“An analysis of ball speeds among golf’s longest hitters in 2023 shows that the fastest ten players had an average ball speed of 186mph, while the average ball speed of the fastest 25 was 183.4mph (the very fastest averaged 190mph).”
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