Golf’s governing bodies are finally ready to address the game’s distance problem after conceding their “line in the sand” has been crossed.
Advances in fitness and golf equipment technology have seen players hit the ball further and further in recent years, leading to golf courses being lengthened in an effort to continue to test the world’s best.
In a Joint Statement of Principles issued in 2002, the R&A and USGA stated that “any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable”, while a report published by the same organisations in 2016 controversially stated that driving distance on four of the major golf tours increased by approximately one per cent between 2003 and 2015.
However, speaking ahead of the release of this year’s report, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers admitted there had been a noticeable increase in distance across all tours, with 68 players currently averaging more than 300 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour this season.
“There has been a significant move up across all tours and we’re looking at the longest average driving distance on record,” Slumbers said. “Both of those have caused us, as well as our colleagues at the USGA, serious concern.
“We had talked for a number of years about slow creep and 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. I think 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 on where we go.”
USGA executive director Mike Davis admitted earlier this month that increased distance is not “good for the game,” while Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Greg Norman have all expressed support for limiting the distance the ball can travel.
That is sure to cause issues with equipment manufacturers, as would a possible “bifurcation” of the rules which would see professionals and amateurs using different equipment.
Asked if that was on the agenda, Slumbers added: “I think there are many, many options available.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done with a lot of people, and engaging with not just the game but the equipment manufacturers and all sorts of things, but that work we now feel needs to be done.
“I’m hoping that we have a constructive conversation with all stakeholders for the good of the game.
“What do we want to do? We want the game to expand. We want more people to play. We want to see it as a skilful game.
“I love seeing the best of the players out there doing it. I think we will all work and talk around this whole distance issue.”