USGA, R&A issue new golf ball rules to limit length
The solution proposed on Tuesday by the US Golf Association and the UK-based R&A, which oversees the sport’s rulebook and standards, would allow recreational players to continue using high-performance balls but force professional players to use a ball designed to limit developed distance.
The decision, which is not final and would come into effect in 2026 at the earliest, would have far-reaching implications for the game, creating a severe divide between amateurs and professionals and forcing a multitude of stakeholders to devote extraordinary attention to one of the smallest sports devices – including manufacturers, the professional tours, the collegiate ranks and even organizers of youth events and country club tournaments.
“This isn’t really about today,” Mike Whan, the USGA’s chief executive officer, told reporters Tuesday. “It’s about understanding and being able to understand the historical trends of the last 10, 20, 40 years [foresee] …climbs that are so incredibly predictable. If we just don’t do anything, we’ll pass that on to the next generation and to all golf courses around the world for them to just find out.”
“Golf has become much more athletic and technology has improved significantly,” added R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers, “and it’s the future implications that are most pressing for the USGA and the R&A.”
Officials stressed that in rethinking gaming policies, they prioritized protecting recreational play while trying to ensure golf courses remained competitive and sustainable.
Gear has constantly changed over the years, helping pros and amateurs alike get more distance off the tee. Average mileage on the PGA Tour has increased from 267 yards a quarter century ago to 299.8 last season, led by Cameron Champ, who averaged 321.4 yards.
The proposed changes aim to reduce shot distance for the longest clubs by an average of 14-15 yards. Under the proposal, the golf ball would have to meet more stringent testing standards for elite players — a limit of 317 yards with a clubhead speed of 127 miles per hour. Although clubs are also a major factor in longer drives – average club head speed has increased by 2.2 mph and launch angle has decreased by 0.5 degrees since 2007 – the USGA and R&A recommend no changes to drivers or other clubs.
With the USGA and R&A hosting two of the sport’s marquee events, the US Open and the British Open, those events would adopt the new rules. Other majors, as well as pro circuits like the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, LIV Golf, the Korn Ferry Tour, the LPGA, and even NCAA-level golf would have to decide which ball to use.
In a statement Tuesday, the PGA Tour said it will continue to investigate the issue and provide feedback. “The Tour remains committed to ensuring that any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport,” the statement read.
While USGA and R&A officials said they had no indication whether pro tours would adopt the changes, they said the new ball standards aren’t needed for the LPGA tour, but could be useful for high-end amateurs .
“Given what we’ve seen at the college level, it would make sense for me to implement that,” Whan said.
At the highest levels of the sport, the change could affect everyone, take some players’ advantage off the tee and potentially encourage a more rounded game. More than 80 players average more than 300 yards per drive, a distance no Tour player averaged until John Daly in 1997.
“Today’s longest drivers will still be the longest drivers,” said Slumbers. “The best ball drivers will always be the best ball drivers.”
The notion that the sport could have different parameters for pros and amateurs – the so-called “bifurcation,” as those in the game call it – is sure to be divisive. USGA Chief Governance Officer Thomas Pagel emphasized that the proposal is more about creating options than aiming to keep the game sustainable and competitive.
“It’s not the beginning of writing two different sets of rules,” he said. “It’s really just an option around a device.”
Golf manufacturers are likely to be among the most vocal opponents. Acushnet, Titleist’s parent company, said in a statement that “a fork would split golf between elite and recreational players, create confusion and break the connection that is part of the game’s permanent structure.” Its CEO, David Maher, called the proposal ” a solution in search of a problem”.
“One of the unifying charms of golf is that everyone in the game can play by the same rules, play the same courses and with the same equipment,” the company said. “Golfers can watch pros and compare themselves to the best in the world trying to hit the same shots.”
Slumbers acknowledged the proposed change is likely to face opposition, but said the game cannot continue on its current course, adding a meter or so of distance on average every year.
“We know this is a challenge,” he said, “but it is our responsibility as governing bodies to do what is right, not what is easy, and ensure that we leave the game in better shape for future generations.”
While the review officially began in 2018, Tuesday’s announcement was an important step in the process. Industry players have until mid-August to provide feedback. The USGA and R&A emphasized that the new ball standards would not go into effect until 2026.
“It’s a fairly simple approach,” Whan said, “which means that not only is it easy to understand, but it’s easy to implement at the local level and offers a game selection that doesn’t exist today.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/03/14/usga-ra-golf-ball-rules-length/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage USGA, R&A issue new golf ball rules to limit length