Governing Bodies Set to Address Question of Distance in Golf
Distance has been a much-discussed topic within the game, but it now seems apparent that the two governing bodies - the R&A and USGA - are coming together to look at attempting to reduce the mammoth yardages that are recorded by golfers at the highest level.
Martin Slumbers, the R&A's Chief Executive, was speaking members of the British press at Kingsbarns on a day that also saw the Old Course at St. Andrews confirmed to host the Open Championship 2021. The Englishman has previously been hesitant to address the topic, Alistair Tait reported in Golf Week that the tide is turning within the leadership.
"Hitting distance is very important to focus in on," Slumbers said. "It’s not just about the ball, it’s about the hitting distance, and this balance between how much skill and how much technology is available. There’s no doubt in my mind that the technology has made this quite difficult game just a little bit easier, and at a time when we want more people to play the game, I think that’s a good thing. But we do also think that golf is a game of skill and should be reflective of skill."
Historic courses have become increasingly unreflective of the modern game in recent years, unless they have been overly tricked up. Having been established for generations, yardages were extended. In 2001, Augusta National measured 6,985 yards. Just a year later - following significant changes - the Masters venue totalled at 7,270. By 2006 it was 7,445, with club officials now looking at further extensions, specifically the famous par five 13th.
Looking at St. Andrews, championship tees on several holes - notably the revered Road Hole - are now literally situated outwith the course boundaries. Golf at the highest level has outgrown many of its grandest stages.
Slumbers' remarks come after similar comments made by the USGA's Executive Director, Mike Davis, who said: "We do not think that distance is necessarily good for the game."
Just glancing at the PGA Tour's Driving Distance Stats makes for a striking read. 68 players are currently averaging 300+ yards this year, which compares to just 13 from 2013.
"There has been a significant move up across all tours," Slumbers added. "We’re looking at the longest on record average driving distance. It’s caused us as well as our colleagues at the USGA serious concern.
"We had talked for a number of years about slow creep. This is a little bit more than slow creep. It’s actually quite a big jump.
"Our 2002 joint statement of principles put a line in the sand, or purported to put a line in the sand. Our view is when you start to look at this data now, that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed."
Set to unveil a Distance Report in March, there aren't yet specifics as to how the governing bodies seek to address this issue, and questions remain about the potential impact of changes, but it's not clear that discussions are being had behind influential doors across the game. It’s a developing story that will be intriguing to follow.
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