Golf architects react to ball rollback plans

  • Rollback

    The EIGCA and SAGCA have issued a joint statement supporting rollback plans put forward by the USGA and R&A

Adam Lawrence
By Adam Lawrence

Golf architects around the world have been reacting to last week’s announcement by the R&A and USGA of a planned ‘rollback’ of ball technology for all golfers to reduce the impact on courses of greater distance.

Two of the industry’s three main bodies, the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) and the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA) have issued a joint statement supporting the initiative.

EIGCA president Caspar Grauballe says: “As golf course architects, we believe the reduction of hitting distances is vital to protect the game and reduce the environmental impact of courses. We are therefore very positive regarding the announcement made by the R&A and USGA on further limiting the distance of the golf ball.”

Grauballe says that the proposed changes are fairly small, and unlikely to have a significant impact on the way courses are designed. “It will, however, protect the intended design strategies of older golf courses and ensure that historic courses will stay relevant and allow for the design of courses to be focused on a range of skills rather than simply focusing on distance. Hopefully these new limitations will reduce the need for lengthening courses and thereby reduce the future environmental and economic impact of golf courses. These are positive steps in safeguarding the future of golf and we sincerely hope that these new limits will have a positive impact for all golfers.”

Paul Mogford, the president of SAGCA, says: “By addressing concerns related to technological advancements in golf equipment, these measures aim to strike a balance between innovation and preserving the essential skills that define the game. We commend the R&A and the USGA on their without bias approach to protecting the future of golf.”

Other architects too have offered mostly supportive views. Veteran American architect Ron Prichard, renowned as ‘the father of the restoration movement’, pointed out to GCA that the announcement has been a long time coming. “I am 100 per cent favourable and wish it was a bit more aggressive,” he says. “In 1993, I wrote a five-page letter to David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, calling for precisely what they are now doing. Because they waited so many years to react, we now have more than a generation of players who never experienced competing with persimmon headed ‘real’ woods, and a balata ball. So naturally they are completely resistant.”

Whether the change will achieve its goals remains to be seen. Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design has his doubts. “I support the move, but it’s too little and ten years too late,” he says. “Elite golf has become woefully one dimensional. The nuance of shaping shots and playing for the angles has gone. It’s not just the ball, it’s the heads, shafts, launch monitors, physical conditioning, the whole lot. From a design perspective, it’s demoralising having to think about putting bunkers out at 320-350 yards to trouble the elite. That isn’t relatable to the vast majority of players, so for those bunkers to be influential for all, we have to stretch the tees out far more. And we’re running out of space to do that. For example, I designed the third at the JCB course in Staffordshire, England, in 2013. From the back tee over the cross bunkers was 275 yards. When we came to building it a couple of years later, I thought it wasn’t enough, so built an extra back tee with a 300 yard carry. And now that is nowhere near enough. When the Good Good YouTubers filmed there, one of them, a mid single-figure handicapper, knocked it over the top with a three wood, and it was no big deal to him. We can’t make that hole any longer. They erected a plaque when Seve drove the tenth at The Belfry in 1978. Now pot-bellied, hungover club golfers are doing the same for fun. I’m all for golf being as fun as possible for the masses, but it has become unsustainable from a resource management perspective. Was golf any less fun in 1980? I don’t think so, but have the authorities got the courage to put the genie back in the bottle? I don’t think so.”