THE WAY FORWARD
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 difficult, 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 performanceenhancing 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 affects 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 effect 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 difficult 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 official in some form will be problematic, costly and an incredibly slow process, but Golf World believes it’s the only option and the most sensible way ahead.