Rory gives his take on the Distance Insights Report ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/sgQQ4XzBlM
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) February 3, 2021
The USGA and R&A are reaching out once again to the golf industry after a long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it might have been a better idea to to make that pause permanent rather than temporary.
The Distance Insights Report, you’ll recall, concerned itself with increasing distances making golf courses less challenging or even obsolete. On Tuesday, the governing bodies unveiled specific areas of interest and three proposed changes to the equipment rules to deal with the distance dilemma.
“The research conducted through Distance Insights clearly shows that hitting distances have consistently increased through time and, if left unchecked, could threaten the long-term future of our game at every level and every golf course on which it is played,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA.
“This is the first forward step in a journey and a responsibility the USGA and the R&A share with the worldwide golf community to ensure that golf continues to thrive for the next hundred years and beyond,” he added.
Across the Atlantic, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers sounded just as gung-ho to progress on this matter.
“We are now able to progress with the work on this critical topic and are beginning the next phase as expeditiously as possible,” said Slumbers.
“The research topics and the proposed changes we have announced will be the focus of our attention in the coming months and we look forward to gaining insights from the golf industry and fully understanding their perspectives on these key areas,” he said.
“We remain fully committed to conducting this hugely important exercise for the sport thoroughly, efficiently and collaboratively,” said Slumbers.
Two of the proposed changes are aimed at modernizing equipment testing protocols, with the other considering a local rule that would allow a committee to limit the maximum length for non-putter clubs other from the current 48 to 46 inches, a proposal that could conceivably affect Brooke Henderson, who plays a 48-inch driver.
Will Henderson need to carry two drivers to each tournament and how will it affect her game if she has to play the shorter club? She finished sixth last year with a 262.125-yard average driving distance on the LPGA Tour, where the top average distance off the tee was 281.250 yards.
The LPGA Tour isn’t the cause of the anxiety about making golf courses obsolete, nor does it filter down through the various levels of golf, either professional or amateur.
Last year, Bryson DeChambeau led the PGA Tour in average driving distance at 322.1 yards and 72 players poked it over 300 yards on average. The tour is what the governing bodies should be isolating and identifying as he main area of concern in the distance dilemma, which has been going on for decades.
Traditionally, however, the R&A and USGA has preferred to speak in general terms when voicing their concerns about distance. One word they try to avoid is the dreaded bifurcation in rules/equipment.
One of the areas of interest that the governing bodies sent to golf equipment manufacturers indicates that they may be softening their stand a wee bit.
That called for “the potential use of a Local Rule that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances. This would enable committees conducting competitions to stipulate whether such equipment should be used. It could be available at all levels of play and would also allow golfers playing outside of competition to choose for themselves.”
It would seem through this area of interest that the governing bodies are at least recognizing that there’s not much they can do about the equipment recreational players use, but players in club championships could conceivably be forced, depending on the committee, to use shorter-hitting clubs or rolled back golf balls.
Again, the main concern isn’t at the club, provincial or national levels, although there could be exceptions, but on the PGA Tour.
Webb Simpson said on Tuesday that the key to the distance dilemma is not in equipment rollbacks, but in course set-up.
“We need more doglegs. We need tighter fairways. We need longer rough. We need smaller greens. We need more firm greens. All those things I just named save money, saves water, saves land that you have to build a golf course. We know that 8,000-yard golf courses are not the answer,” said Simpson.
“I don’t think an equipment rollback does anybody any good when we can change the way golf courses are designed and it’s better for amateurs, it’s better for pros and there are plenty of golf courses on the PGA Tour that have stood the test of time because of the way they’re designed,” he said.
“Equipment advances don’t really pay off or pay a dividend on those courses and I just feel like these tweaks we could make are really not that hard and they’re cost effective,” he said, adding that the PGA Tour needs a loud voice in this discussion.
Don’t be surprised to hear similar kickback from players on the tour, where long-hitters are a big draw and dialling back power could also mean reducing the chances of success for the big hitters.
The USGA and R&A need to isolate and identify the main source of the distance dilemma, but even if they do turn their attention specifically to the PGA Tour, they may not like what they hear in the feedback that concludes before the end of 2021, There will soon be obstacles in their quest.
If you didn’t read the joint statement from the R&A and USGA, click here.