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Universal Golf Ball Rollback Announced by Governing Bodies

By: | Wed 06 Dec 2023

And so it has finally been confirmed. Golf balls WILL be rolled back for both professionals and amateurs, but we have plenty of time to take the news on board and prepare for it.

The R&A and USGA, which together set the game’s rules, have announced the roll back in an attempt to "reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf's long-term sustainability."

Professionals will have to start using the new balls in 2028, while club golfers won't have to start using them until 2030.

Martin Slumbers, R&A chief executive, said: "We are convinced that this decision is one of the key ways of achieving a sustainable future for golf, protecting the integrity of the game and meeting out environmental responsibilities. 

"The measure we are taking has been carefully considered and calibrated while maintaining the 'one game' ethos deemed to be so important to the golf industry. Importantly, it also keeps the impact on recreational golfers to an absolute minimum. We are acting now because we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy the unique challenge of golf as much as we do."

The new balls will see a reduction in distance of 13-15 yards for the longest hitters, 9-11 yards for the average touring pro and 5-7 yards for an average female pro.

Recreational golfers are set to lose "5 yards or less" according to the governing bodies, who say that impact on regular golfers will be "kept to an absolute minimum." The 5 yards or less figure is based on a swing speed of 93mph for men and 72mph for women. 

The R&A St Andrews

The golf ball will be rolled back by changing the testing procedures. Currently golf balls in testing cannot travel more than 317 yards (plus a 3 yard tolerance) with a testing swing speed of 120mph, a spin rate of 2520rpm and a launch angle of 10 degrees. The overall distance will remain the same for testing from 2028 onwards but the swing speed will be upped to 125mph with a lower spin rate of 2220rpm and a higher launch angle of 11 degrees.

While the testing procedures will be changed in 2028, golf balls released in 2027 and earlier will still be allowed in play until January 2030 to allow golfers, manufacturers and retailers time to adjust, the governing bodies say.

The news means that 'bifurcation' in golf will not be going ahead as previously planned, where pros and recreational golfers use different equipment. The PGA Tour and manufacturers were against the plans for change.

Alongside the new ball-testing conditions, the governing bodies will:

  • "Expand the testing approach to better detect ‘Driver Creep,’ which can result in drivers exceeding the limits set out in the Equipment Rules. This is a change in the testing methodology for submitted drivers, to identify and proactively address driver models that are within current tolerance levels and have Characteristic Time (CT) values that are more likely to exceed the limit through regular use."
  • "Continue to monitor drivers and explore possible additional options related to distance. Specifically, we will research the forgiveness of drivers and how they perform with off-centre hits. This is an ongoing review and we will seek input from and continue to work with the industry, including manufacturers, to identify driver design features that can be regulated as a means to reward centre impact position hits versus mis-hits."

Mike Whan, chief executive officer of the USGA, said: "Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn't do enough to protect the game long-term. But from the beginning, we've been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we've said, doing nothing is not an option - and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game's future if we didn't take appropriate action now."

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