Golf Australia - - GOLF IS GOOD -

Dis­tance is with­out doubt the most com­pli­cated topic in golf right now, and what we’ve run over 13 pages here could eas­ily have filled twice that num­ber.

Any­one who has watched the game evolve over the last decade didn’t need a USGA/R&A re­port to tell them that dis­tance has in­creased and, in cer­tain in­stances, in­creased to a some­what dis­con­cert­ing level.

Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments in equip­ment have al­lowed – and en­cour­aged – drives to fly longer and straighter, ren­der­ing many of the clas­sic cour­ses pow­er­less and con­tin­u­ally nar­row­ing the tal­ent gap be­tween the great, the good and the medi­ocre play­ers. Clearly that’s a prob­lem and clearly some­thing needs to be done. The fact that the USGA and R&A have iden­ti­fied it as a prob­lem is a pos­i­tive thing, even if the horse has long since bolted.

How­ever, it’s also im­por­tant to re­alise that the game isn’t bro­ken for ev­ery­one. De­spite the tech­nol­ogy we now have at our dis­posal, most am­a­teurs do not drive the ball so far that the cour­ses we play can no longer con­tain us. In fact, the av­er­age ama­teur drive in­creased only slightly be­tween 1996 and 2017 – from 200 yards to 208.

The fact that our drives are a lit­tle longer and straighter than they were two decades ago is no bad thing. Given that the game of golf is di‹cult, we be­lieve that any­thing that makes the sport a lit­tle more en­joy­able for the masses can only be viewed as pos­i­tive.

Which is why, of the three op­tions pre­sented on the pre­vi­ous pages, the best ap­proach as we see it would be a move to­wards some kind of bi­fur­ca­tion of equip­ment. Two sets of specs – one which al­lows us to re­tain our per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing equip­ment and keep on mak­ing mod­est im­prove­ments, an­other which lim­its the dis­tance of the top pros, breathes life back into de­fence­less cour­ses and en­ables us to iden­tify who re­ally are the best golfers.

In pretty much ev­ery other sport you can think of, the di­men­sions of the field of play have stayed the same de­spite the ath­letic prow­ess of com­peti­tors im­prov­ing. We be­lieve the same should be true for golf. It is un­fair to de­mand that golf cour­ses con­tin­u­ally ex­pand and lengthen holes to cater for such a small per­cent­age of golfers. It is not prac­ti­cal or fi­nan­cially vi­able.

The prob­lem of ex­ces­sive dis­tance a“ects only a tiny per­cent­age of golfers on the planet and any changes made will have to re­flect that. That’s why a roll back of equip­ment across the board is not vi­able.

Like it or not, the game has changed. We have crossed the line in the sand where dis­tance is con­cerned and the trickle-down e“ect has be­come too sig­nif­i­cant and prob­lem­atic to ig­nore. Those in con­trol of the game must fol­low suit and change with it.

But there are prob­lems. Huge prob­lems. Which­ever so­lu­tion is pro­posed will be messy, un­pop­u­lar and di‹cult to im­ple­ment. The USGA and R&A have both made it clear that they op­pose split­ting the game into two sets of rules, but let’s as­sume that when they fin­ish in­ves­ti­gat­ing fur­ther – and don’t ex­pect that to be a quick process – they have a change of heart. They state that they also be­lieve bi­fur­ca­tion is the way ahead. At that point, it seems safe to as­sume that the in­dus­try’s more dom­i­nant man­u­fac­tur­ers will make it very clear that they strongly op­pose any changes and vow to fight it ev­ery step of the way, what­ever the cost.

The play­ers the man­u­fac­tur­ers pay so well to pro­mote their equip­ment will quickly fall in line be­hind their pay­mas­ters and the PGA Tour, keen to avoid mutiny among their mem­bers, will voice their own dis­may. Sud­denly, pre­dictably, the USGA and R&A will find them­selves out­num­bered and out­gunned. The tail will be wag­ging the dog.

The truth of the mat­ter is that bi­fur­ca­tion is al­ready a part of golf, for we am­a­teurs are clearly not play­ing the same game as the PGA Tour pro­fes­sion­als.

Mak­ing bi­fur­ca­tion o‹cial in some form will be prob­lem­atic, costly and an in­cred­i­bly slow process, but be­lieves it’s the only op­tion and the most sen­si­ble way ahead.


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