Architects discuss driving distances following R&A and USGA research


Architects discuss driving distances following R&A and USGA research
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

The R&A and United States Golf Association (USGA) has published its 2016 annual review on driving distances in modern golf.

Data was gathered from seven major professional golf tours and an approximate collective 285,000 drives. The research also included data from both male and female amateur golfers for the first time.

Key findings from the research included that between 2003 and 2016, the average driving distance on five of the seven tours covered had increased by around 1.2 per cent. In the same period, the distances for the other two tours decreased by around 1.5 per cent.

The amount by which players are ‘long’ or ‘short’ hasn’t changed for those ranked for distance on the PGA Tour and PGA European Tour. Since 2003, the ten ‘shortest’ players in the group are around six per cent shorter than the average, while the ten longest are around seven per cent longer than average.

Other findings included stability since 2007 in the average launch conditions on the PGA Tour, i.e. clubhead speed, launch angle, ball speed and backspin. In fact, the 90th-percentile clubhead speed, average launch angle and spin rates are very close to the tests The R&A and USGA carry out on golf balls under the Overall Distance Standard.

But having taken a look through the research, what do golf architects make of the findings? And are the results being mirroring the requests they are getting from clients regarding distance?

“The average driving distances of average male and female golfers really opened my eyes to the reality I’m dealing with, actually,” says Jeff Mingay. “With only a few exceptions, my clients clubs are showing little interest in adding back tee yardage. Where possible, I always make recommendations to add some distance with new back tees. I’d be remiss not to. But, most clubs I’m working with are more interested in improving the golfing experience from the forward markers. Which is a trend in the right direction, considering those recently released stats.”

Mingay says that it’s important to ensure that courses continue to appeal to golfers of all demographics.

“Golfers are continuing to play into older age than ever before, and more women are playing golf than ever before,” he says. “Of course, we should be setting up courses to encourage potential newcomers and young kids to not only take up golf but provide those wannabe golfers with the best opportunities to also enjoy the game.”

In reaction to the new research, architect Lassi Pekka Tilander told GCA: “I am very happy to read this distance study report. Increasing drive lengths have been persistent headache for a golf course architects. Golf course boundaries are not flexible, but on the other hand there has been pressure to make courses shorter and cheaper.”

“In my recent redesign projects the main focus has been, instead of lengthening, putting fairway hazards further away from teeing areas and making green areas more variable. This has usually been a client request.”

Tilander added: “I really hope all golf organisations will continue their work to keep distances in control. The future of golf is in shorter lengths, less holes and skills around the green.”