Golf’s rule makers confirm plans to roll back the distances travelled by balls at the elite end of the game by introducing new specifications, which could see tee shots reduced by around 15 yards
- Golf rule makers confirm plans to roll back the distances travelled by balls
- The new measures, if codified, would see tee shots reduced by around 15 yards
- Martin Slumbers indicated ‘half’ of the players he has spoken to wanted change
Golf’s rule makers have confirmed controversial plans to roll back the distances travelled by balls at the elite end of the game amid the growing problem of courses being overpowered by the biggest hitters.
On the back of six years of six years of research, the R&A and the United States Golf Association announced their hope on Tuesday that new measures, if codified, would see tee shots reduced by around 15 yards.
Their proposal notice, which focuses squarely on ball specifications rather than club design, was sent to golf equipment manufacturers on Monday and, pending feedback, their changes would be introduced in January 2026.
The intention is to give tours and competitions the option to use ‘balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf’, which would effectively make the balls currently in use illegal, though it would have no impact on recreational game.
Strong opposition to the plans has already been logged by the owners of Titleist. But in citing the troubling fact that balls are travelling ever-greater distances each season – in 20 years, the average drive on the PGA Tour has risen from 285 yards to 299 yards, with Rory McIlroy out in front with a 326 yard average – the bodies in charge of golf’s rules have moved to safeguard courses used in the professional game.
Golf rule makers confirmed plans to roll back distances travelled by balls at the elite end of the game
Martin Slumbers, CEO of R&A, indicated ‘half’ of the players he has spoken to wanted change
For instance, there were great fears at The Open last year that St Andrews would be too easily tamed by modern technology and it is notable that Augusta has lengthened its 13th hole for the 2023 Masters by 35 yards after the par five had become too easy.
Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, said: ‘This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.
‘Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years. 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.’
Slumbers has indicated ‘half’ of the players he has spoken to wanted change and the other half were happy with the status quo.
While it would be up to a manufacturer to determine how to make their ball compliant, the proposal would require that a ball struck at a laboratory-controlled swing speed of 127mph must not travel more than 320 yards.
The proposal would require that a ball struck at a laboratory-controlled swing speed of 127mph must not travel more than 320 yards
A statement from Acushnet, who own Titleist, the most commonly used brand on Tour, was strongly critical of the proposals.
It read: ‘One of golf’s unifying appeals is that everyone in the game plays by the same set of rules, can play the same courses and with the same equipment… The USGA and R&A have announced a notice proposing a potential rule change that provides for reduced distance golf balls intended for professional and elite amateur competitions and a different set of rules for all other play.
‘This bifurcation would divide golf between elite and recreational play, add confusion, and break the linkage that is part of the game’s enduring fabric.
‘Under the proposed guidelines, events that adopt this would require players to use a substantially shorter golf ball, similar in distance to what was available in the 1990’s. The performance changes of any rolled back ball would impact every shot in the round. Players would also be required to adapt to changes in equipment with some players disadvantaged over others by this disruption.’
The Acushnet CEO president David Maher described the proposals as ‘a solution in search of a problem.’