Distance Insights Project
The issue of hitting distance raises vital issues in these respects, as reflected in The R&A and USGA’s 2002 Joint Statement of Principles on distance:
“[A]ny further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.”
Since that time, hitting distances at the highest level have continued to increase. Moreover, as explained below, there has been a continuing trend of increases in hitting distances for more than a century and that upward direction is expected to continue in the future.
We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end. Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable or sustainable in the future. In reaching this conclusion, our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.
B. Summary of Conclusions
The research in the Distance Insights Report shows that hitting distances and the lengths of golf courses have been increasing for more than 100 years. We believe that this continuing cycle of increases is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future, for two main reasons:
First, the inherent strategic challenge presented by many golf courses can be compromised, especially when those courses have not or cannot become long enough to keep up with increases in the hitting distances of the golfers who play from their longest tees:
- Increased hitting distance can lead to a reduction in the variety, length and creativity of shot types needed on such courses and to holes more often being overpowered by distance, as well as to an increased emphasis on the importance of distance at the expense of accuracy and other skills.
- This can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about using a broad range of skills and making risk/reward judgments during a round.
- The result is also that an increasing number of such courses, both widely renowned and less well-known, are at risk of becoming less challenging or ultimately obsolete for those who play from their longest tees – a serious loss for the game.
Second, the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has its own adverse consequences that ultimately affect golfers at all levels and the game as a whole:
- Expanding existing courses and building longer new ones often requires significant capital investment and higher annual operating costs.
- Overall, the trend towards longer courses puts golf at odds with the growing societal concerns about the use of water, chemicals and other resources, the pressures for development restrictions and alternative land use, and the need to mitigate the long-term effects of a changing climate and natural environment.
C. Next Steps
With this background in mind, our Equipment Standards teams and Committees will be conducting a broad review of both clubs and balls to understand and assess a full range of options for addressing these issues relating to hitting distance. Without limiting the scope of topics that may be considered, this review is expected to include the following:
- 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.
- 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.
D. Impact of Hitting Distance Increases at Golf Courses that Do Not Become Longer
We believe that no matter how far one can hit a ball or what tees are played, a broad and balanced set of playing skills should remain the primary determinant of success in golf.
E. Impact of Continuing Trends
Increasing course lengths also have broader potential effects on long-term sustainability. The sport of golf is recognizing the need to adapt to escalating environmental and natural resource concerns, climate change and associated regulatory activities, such as a need to address the following issues:
- Water and chemicals. With the United Nations predicting that the world’s water supply will fall 40% short of projected demand by 2030 and with regulatory efforts to limit water consumption and preserve water quality, many golf courses are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of water, nutrients, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. 32
- Land use. Accelerating population growth and urbanization in many regions is contributing to rising land values and increasing efforts to use open spaces, leading to golf course closures where planners and developers see a better use for the land. And in some places, these land use pressures on golf courses are exacerbated by environmental challenges such as desertification, sea-level rise and coastal erosion.33
- Wildlife and habitat protection. Pressure to protect threatened species and their habitats is growing in many regions, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for golf courses. Wellmanaged courses have proven to be exemplary stewards of wildlife and pollinator habitat, which can be accomplished in various ways, including by converting maintained turf where the game is currently played into out-of-play areas.34
- Energy. The issues associated with fossil fuel consumption are well known, and the amount of fuel and lubricants used by maintenance vehicles and equipment at a golf course can be reduced by shrinking the total acreage of maintained turf.