USGA and R&A Propose Local Rule Ball For Elite Competitions
The Great Golf Ball Rollback is upon us.
Fortunately for us hackers, it seems as though it will directly affect only elite golfers.
The USGA and R&A plan released today would approve Model Local Rule (MLR) balls for competition under modified testing standards. MLF balls would not:
exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus 3 yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127 mph and based on a calibration setup of 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2,220 rpm) as part of this proposal.
In English, balls will be tested for distance under the higher swing speeds and launch conditions typical of pros and elite amateurs. Balls that come at the 317-yard limit will be approved for elite competitions.
Golf balls for the rest of us will apparently continue to be approved under current speed and launch conditions.
Good. Ninety-nine percent of golfers do not hit the ball too far. “I really need to hit it shorter” said no weekend golfer ever.
Make no mistake. It is the ordinary, daily fee golfers who buy the vast majority of the equipment, clothes, balls, etc. Recreational players are the ones who keep the golf financial eco system going.
In their joint release, the USGA and R&A make it clear that they do not want to do anything to stymie that ninety-nine percent.
I still have questions.
First, how will manufacturers approach this bifurcated ball system? Will Titleist, for example, offer a bifurcated Pro V1 — a Pro V1 and a Pro V1 MLR?
I can see a world in which manufacturers simply switch to primarily producing the new limited ball for reasons of R&D and production costs.
There’s another alternative: could manufacturers produce balls that simultaneously meet BOTH the MLR and regular standards? Can they somehow push amateur distance while limiting elite player distance? Or, given such a situation, could elite players take a little off the swing to produce better results by coming in just under the speed regulator?
Marketing will be an interesting challenge. Can Titleist market a ball that “flies only 15 yards shorter”?
At the very least, a lot of player education will be necessary: “Yes, this is the ball that the pros play, but we have this other ball for you. You should not play the same equipment the pros play”
That sort of message flies in the face of a hundred years of golf equipment marketing, where players are enticed to play what the pros play. Titleist has built an empire on the fact the Pro V1 is the most played ball on the PGA TOUR. They won’t be able to do that any more.
Manufacturers aside, if there is a bifurcated ball, how will this play out as it filters down the amateur golf eco system?
Will the MLR ball be mandated in state championships such as the Michigan Open and Amateur? If so, what about lower-tier competitions that aspirational golfers play?
Competitors in the Michigan Amateur play in club championships. Will they practice and play with the MLR ball and switch to a longer ball for local competitions? Or will club championships require the MLR ball?
Will people who want to play in an MLR club championship make the MLR their everyday ball? Will the friendly local money game require an MLR ball because some of those players compete in golf association competitions? Where will the cutoff evolve?
Will collegiate players be required to use the MLR? Will they choose to if they aspire to the PGA TOUR? If so, does it then make sense for high school and juniors to use it?
Circling back to the manufacturer side, will so many end up using the MLR ball that it doesn’t make financial sense to sell anything else?
Note that I do not imagine any ruling from on high about when and where the MLR ball should be used. There will most likely be some emergent order.
I also wonder if the PGA TOUR will get on board. Theoretically, a limited flight ball would enable the TOUR to use shorter golf courses. That certainly is what the golf experts on Twitter chastised me about when I suggested the TOUR might not be interested in distance reduction:
“A limited ball won’t be a problem; they will just shorten courses.”
“They’ll be able to use less land.”
“Resources will be saved.”
However, if the ball flight is reduced and course length is reduced by a similar percentage, aren’t you right back to where you started? Players will still hit driver-short iron into every par four; they will just do it from further up with a shorter ball.
The suggested fifteen yards of rollback similarly isn’t really enough to save any land anyway. Fifteen yards by my poor math skills is 5%. A 7,000 yard course shortened by 5% would still be 6, 650 yards.
Realistically, course length is only an issue on about fifty courses one week a year. The problem is that those are the favored courses of the governing bodies. There are 15,000 golf courses in the United States alone. Distance is a problem therefore only on 0.03% of courses for 0.006% of the time.
If the PGAT doesn’t reduce course length, we could see fewer birdies. That might generate less excitement. I can’t be the only fan who likes to see birdies and eagles on a PGA TOUR weekend.
For the elite players themselves, my question is: How long before they figure out how to hit it just as far — if not further — with the new ball? Change the tee height; change the attack angle; change a million other things that I don’t even know about.
It will be interesting to see how this sorts out. I am just happy that — at least for the moment — the proposed plan leaves my golf ball alone. I am naturally losing distance as I get older; I don’t need any additional loss from the USGA.
The entire press release follows:
The USGA And The R&A Announce Proposal To Introduce Model Local Rule Option For Golf Balls Used In Elite Competitions
Proposed change to golf ball testing conditions
Aimed at elite players with no impact on the vast majority of golfers
No change to the general rules on Equipment Standards at this time
LIBERTY CORNER, N.J., USA AND ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (March 14, 2023) – The USGA and The R&A have proposed a Model Local Rule (MLR) that gives competition organizers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.
The MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and, if adopted, will have no impact on recreational golf.
The proposal notice, which can be found here, was sent to golf equipment manufacturers on March 13, following the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures established by the governing bodies in 2011. Manufacturers and golf stakeholders can provide feedback until Aug. 14, 2023. If adopted, the proposal would take effect on Jan 1, 2026.
Golf balls that conform to the MLR must not exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus 3 yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127 mph and based on a calibration setup of 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2,220 rpm) as part of this proposal.
All other balls, including those typically used by recreational golfers with lower swing speeds, would continue to be tested using the existing ALC values (120 mph, and a calibration setup of 10 degrees and 42 revolutions per second – 2,520 rpm). The current ODS limit of 317 yards will remain unchanged and would be applied to both testing setups.
The Overall Distance Standard was established in 1976 as a ball test intended to reflect maximum potential hitting distance by the longest hitters currently playing the game.
There is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and hitting distance (further research having been published in the Distance Insights reports). Over the last 20 years hitting distance has increased on average by around 1 yard per year.
The modified testing setup in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.
“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,” said Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA. “Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon. The MLR we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game. We are taking the next steps in this process, guided first and foremost by doing what’s right by the entire game.”
Martin Slumbers, CEO of The R&A, said, “We have worked closely with the golf industry throughout this process and taken time to listen carefully to their perspectives and reflect on the helpful and constructive feedback they have provided. At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses. 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.”
The governing bodies have consulted closely with the golf industry throughout the Distance Insights project, which commenced in 2018 but has been under continual study over at least the last two decades. This is the fourth formal feedback period to be opened in the last five years, in addition to continuing stakeholder engagement across the game, including golfers, fans, competition organizers, equipment manufacturers, golf course owners, superintendents, architects and others.
Based on feedback received from manufacturers, the USGA and The R&A are no longer considering the use of launch conditions that are optimized for each individual golf ball model to evaluate conformance. Similarly, they are not pursuing a reduction in the characteristic time limit in the existing Equipment Standards or changes to the Moment of Inertia limit of drivers at this time.
The USGA and The R&A set out to address the long-term trend of increased hitting distances and course lengthening that they believe threatens golf’s long-term sustainability and undermines the core principle that a broad and balanced set of playing skills should remain the primary determinant of success in golf.
The findings of extensive research by the governing bodies into distance (along with the supporting research and data) were set out within the Distance Insights report into the Implications of Hitting Distance in February 2020 under two key themes: the pressure on courses to continue to lengthen and ensuring that distance did not become predominant in the balance of skills required in golf.
The report also found that the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has adverse consequences, including by increasing the cost and time to play, limiting the advancement of sustainability efforts and reducing the challenge of courses – in some cases creating a risk of them becoming obsolete.
The 2022 Annual Driving Distance Report, which aggregates hitting distance data reported by seven professional men’s and women’s tours worldwide, has also been released, and can be found here.
Data provided for the report showed that the average clubhead speed on the PGA TOUR was 114.6 mph last year, with an average launch angle of 10.3° and average spin of 2,597 rpm. The mean of the fastest 1 percent of clubhead speeds was 127.5 mph in 2022, while the mean of the fastest 5 percent of clubhead speeds was 124.2 mph.
The Annual Driving Distance Report also reports a 4 percent average year-over-year increase in hitting distance across all seven tours, with all but the Japan Golf Tour and LPGA Tour reporting the longest values on record. The Korn Ferry Tour recorded the highest annual hitting average across all tours in 2022, at 307.8 yards.
For more information visit www.usga.org/distanceinsights or www.randa.org
About the USGA
The USGA is a nonprofit organization that celebrates, serves and advances the game of golf. Founded in 1894, we conduct many of golf’s premier professional and amateur championships, including the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. With The R&A, we govern the sport via a global set of playing, equipment, handicapping and amateur status rules. The USGA campus in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, is home to the Association’s Research and Test Center, where science and innovation are fueling a healthy and sustainable game for the future. The campus is also home to the USGA Golf Museum, where we honor the game by curating the world’s most comprehensive archive of golf artifacts. To learn more, visit usga.org.
About The R&A
References in this document to The R&A are to R&A Rules Limited. Together The R&A, based in St. Andrews, Scotland, and the USGA govern the sport of golf worldwide, operating in separate jurisdictions but with a commitment to a single code for the Rules of Golf, Rules of Amateur Status and Equipment Standards. The R&A governs the sport worldwide, outside of the United States and Mexico, on behalf of over 36 million golfers in 144 countries and with the consent of 159 organizations from amateur and professional golf.
The R&A aims to invest £200 million in developing golf over a decade and supports the growth of the sport internationally, including the development and management of sustainable golf facilities. For more information visit http://www.randa.org