R&A Calls Distance Increase Unusual and Concerning
Golf's two governing bodies, the R&A and USGA have unveiled their annual review of driving distance within the game, noting an "unusual and concerning" increase within a single season on the major tours.
Previously, reports from 2015 and 2016 noted a "small creep" of 0.2 yards per year since 2003. However, there was a marked deviation from that average last year. The distance gained across each of the seven recorded circuits averaged out at around three yards. The St. Andrews based organisation noted that this development "requires closer inspection and monitoring to fully understand the causes and effects."
What the specific action that could be taken by the bodies remains unclear - and the timetable hasn't been outlined - but a process of sorts has gotten underway. The joint statement with the USGA notes: "As the review of this issue progresses, The R&A and the USGA remain committed to the spirit of the 2002 Joint Statement of Principles which recognise that distance impacts many aspects of golf and that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.
"Increases in distance can contribute to demands for longer, tougher and more resource-intensive golf courses at all levels of the game. These trends can impact the costs to operate golf courses and put additional pressures on golf courses in their local environmental landscape. The effect of increasing distance on the balance between skill and technology is also a key consideration. Maintaining this balance is paramount to preserving the integrity of golf."
When it came to club golfers, the report found: "The average driving distance of a sample of amateur male golfers in the UK was measured to be 208 yards in 2016. This represents an increase of 8 yards over 21 years, Driver usage has increased amongst these players over this timeframe, particularly for the highest handicap golfers. An equivalent average driving distance for female average golfers between 2013 and 2017 was 146 yards."
Recently, figures as distinguished as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have outlined their belief that distance has increased beyond desired levels, having a damaging affect for the game at the highest level. Since the Millennium, major championship layouts such as Augusta National and St. Andrews have been stretched beyond their limits to remain relevant in the modern game. For many observers in golf, curbing technology is the solution to restore these venues to past glories.
However, there are complicated questions to be answered as to how this would be achieved. "Bifurcation" would result in a 'tour ball' that is separate from that used by everyday golfers, but that is a controversial change for manufacturers and those who don't want to see that distinction drawn, albeit some believe that it already has been. Curbing the golf ball for everyone is arguably even more problematic at a time when the game is desperate to attract new players.
Ultimately, we won't know exactly what the potential measures are until the R&A and USGA show their hand. But what is now clear, is that for the first time the governing bodies have expressed genuine concern about distance and are deliberating their next move.
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