Governing Bodies Propose Major Changes to Golf Equipment Rules
The distance debate in golf has been one of the game's most enduring sagas, potentially pitting the governing bodies and purists against the manufacturing brands, but that discourse will now take on an accelerated pace following The R&A and USGA's new Distance Insights Update, which establishes the battleground for the months and years to come.
Last February, the Distance Insights Project Report confirmed that hitting distances at the highest levels had reached unhealthy levels; the study noted that in 1995 the top 20 biggest hitters on the top male tours averaged 278 yards from the tee. By 2019 that had increased to 310 yards.
The declaration was that corrective action would be pursued - until the pandemic struck and halted any immediate moves.
However, now the time has come for this subject to be reignited by custodians of the sport.
Specific Areas of Interest have been issued to the manufacturers, outlining steps that will mitigate continuing distance increases, and also features three proposed changes to the Equipment Rules.
Notably, there is a proposal to reduce the maximum length limit for clubs other than putters from 48 inches to 46 inches, something that could impact big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau. This would be deployed through a Model Local Rule (MLR) for Committees that will permit them to limit the maximum length of clubs.
Additionally, the testing method of golf balls, which has largely remain unchanged since 2002, is proposed to be updated, as may a change to testing tolerance (Characteristic Time), which is summarised as the spring-like effect on the face of a club.
Outlining further areas that will be reviewed, The R&A and USGA has said: "We will assess the potential use of a Local Rule option that would specify use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances. The concept is that equipment meeting a particular set of reduced-distance specifications – for example, a ball that does not travel as far or a club that will not hit a ball as far – might be a defined subset of the overall category of conforming equipment. This could allow committees that conduct golf competitions or oversee individual courses to choose, by Local Rule authorized under the Rules of Golf, whether and when to require that such equipment be used. Such a Local Rule option could be available for use at all levels of play, and golfers playing outside of a competition could also have the option to make this choice for themselves."
Also, "We will also review the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. The intended purpose of this review is to consider whether any existing specifications should be adjusted or any new specifications should be created to help mitigate the continuing distance increases. It is not currently intended to consider revising the overall specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game."
Areas that will be evaluated are the following:
- Reduction in the limit within the overall distance standard
- Modification in the limitation of ball efficiency
- Other ball specifications (size, mass)
- Reduction in the performance of drivers: club length and clubhead dimensions (including volume)
- Changes in the clubhead specifications on spring-like effect and moment of inertia, also considering the utilization of radius of gyration limitations
- Production of spin from all clubs from all areas of the course
R&A Chief Executive, Martin Slumbers, has said: “We are now able to progress with the work on this critical topic and are beginning the next phase as expeditiously as possible. 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. We remain fully committed to conducting this hugely important exercise for the sport thoroughly, efficiently and collaboratively.”
Where this ultimately leads to remains unknown, the potential impact uncertain, but there is guaranteed to be intense discussion and scrutiny on these proposals and what they could mean for the future of the game at all levels.
It could be the first step towards a historic change in golf. Fascinating times are ahead.
For more information, visit The R&A.
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