USGA R&A report: Distance increases 'detrimental' to golf's long-term future

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USGA and R&A Distance Report says 100-year trend of distance increases is a cycle that is 'detrimental to the game’s long-term future': Equipment rules expected to be at forefront of potential solutions explored by governing bodies

The message behind the USGA and The R&A's findings of their Distance Insights Report is clear; hitting distances can no longer continue to increase if golf is to have a sustainable, long-term future. 

One of the key findings in the report said that 'Longer distances and courses, longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary for a challenging, enjoyable and sustainable game.'

And while they have not yet determined any solutions, the governing bodies have outlined a number of steps assessing potential solutions that can help end the cycle of increased distance - including the 'review of overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls'.

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, said, "We believe we have reached a pivotal moment in golf. The publication of this report is highly significant. The impact of long-term hitting distance increases on some of golf’s essential elements are now clear – including changing the strategic challenge of the sport, altering the balance of skills needed to be successful and risking courses being less challenging or obsolete.

"Our objective as governing bodies is to work with the key stakeholders in golf to address this issue in a way that brings the sport together and which ensures it continues to thrive for many years to come."

In summary, the key findings from the report (which features more than 100 years of data) concerned not only the environment and societal implications of continually lengthening courses, but also outlined that 'increased hitting distances can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.

In a bid to respond to their report, the USGA and The R&A will now enter the next phase of their work by assessing potential solutions that can help end the cycle of increased distance.

It is expected that the main topic for research and assessment will be potential changes in the Equipment Rules, along with further inquiry into the effects of course design, conditions and setup on hitting distance.

Without limiting the scope of topics that may be considered, this review is expected to include the following: 

• The review of overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. It is not currently intended to consider revising overall equipment specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game.
• The assessment of the potential use of a Local Rule option specifying the use of reduced-distance equipment. Such an option could be available as a choice at all levels of play for competitions, courses and individual players. 
• Guidance on the availability of short enough forward tees and the appropriate tee-to-hole playing distances for golfers of all levels.
•  Several other topics including equipment testing processes, potential guidance on how design, agronomy and setup can affect hitting distance, and others. 

For more information on Distance Insights, see usga.org or randa.org.

The reports and library have been publicly released and can be found atusga.org/distanceinsights or randa.org/distanceinsights