The USGA Wants Your Input On Golf Distance Increases
Following up on their ominous (for the average golfer) March report on distance increases in professional golf, the USGA and R&A have begun a project to study distance and its effects. The Distance Insights Project will “examine distance through a multi-pronged approach that includes global stakeholder engagement, third-party data review and primary research.”
To get a more full picture of the distance “problem,” the governing bodies are asking for input from recreational golfers. They want to know how distance gains are affecting enjoyment, participation, pace of play and other aspects of the game.
I have already given the USGA my two cents. I believe that the governing bodies’ concern over ball distance is driven entirely by their desire to protect their cash cow tournaments. The USGA in particular has an unhealthy obsession with the idea of par that is akin to the obsession of a supermodel in making an “ideal” weight. Just as many models are willing to engage in unhealthy practices such as bulimia and starvation to get to their ideal weight, the USGA seems willing to starve and purge 99.9% of golfers to achieve their ideal of par.
I have never heard an amateur say “Golf is not as much fun as it used to be. I’m hitting the ball too far.” The daily fee golfers who pay the industry’s bills — by purchasing equipment, balls and apparel, frequenting clubs and taking golf trips — would be the losers in a golf ball rollback. Data gathered by Game Golf show that 63% of golfers drive the ball an average of 215 yards or less. A ten percent reduction puts that 63% at 194 yards or less with a driver.
Equipment rollback would lead to a loss of players that the game can ill afford at this point. Courses are closing; equipment sales are declining. Who will buy the new driver that promises 10% fewer yards? Who wants a limited flight ball? Who wants to play a course where even the forward tees are a challenge? Certainly not the weekend players I encounter on public courses. They want to hit the ball farther. The only groups I hear calling for a rollback are a few single digit handicappers, golf media dogmatists, the USGA and bluebloods who worry about the obsolescence of their exclusive, high-priced, hundred-year-old clubs. Those people comprise exactly none of the people on my home course, and probably only 10% of the overall golfing population.
Rollback proponents argue that when distances are rolled back, amateur hackers will just need to move up a tee. I can’t believe anyone thinks that actually will happen. Most players already play from tees that are too far back for their game; rollbacks will just exacerbate the problem. Shorter drives will just increase the time it takes to play a round, and increase scores. Both of those will further accelerate the loss of the people who pay the majority of golf’s bills.
Further, if I move up a tee at my home course (a buck-a-hole muni), I will be playing from the forward of the three sets of tees. Where do the folk who already play from the forward tees go? Instead of reducing costs, as rollback proponents suggest, building new tees to accommodate 194 yard drives will actually increase costs. I can already tell you that my home course will not be building new tees.
A distance freeze is a better option than rollback, but the USGA already has equipment limiting guidelines. Under 2011 rules, a ball cannot go further than 320 yards (317 with a 3 yard tolerance). Initial velocity is limited to no more than 250 feet per second, with a 2% tolerance. Similar restrictions are in place for clubs. If players are hitting the ball “too far,” the root cause is not necessarily the equipment.
Just say no to any distance rollback. It will be bad for the 99% who pay golf’s bills.