R&A and USGA propose reduced distance ball for elite competitions

  • driving distance proposal

    The USGA and R&A have proposed to allow professional tournament organisers to require the use of reduced distance golf balls

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

The USGA and the R&A have proposed a model local rule (MLR) that gives organisers of professional tournaments the option to require the use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.

It is thought that these golf balls could reduce the distance of drives by approximately 20 yards.

Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, said: “At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimise the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed model local rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses. This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.”

The MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and, if adopted, will have no impact on recreational golf.

The proposal notice was sent to golf equipment manufacturers on 13 March. They, and other golf stakeholders, can provide feedback until 14 August. If adopted, the proposal would take effect on 1 January 2026. According to the proposal, golf balls that conform to the MLR must not exceed the current overall distance standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus three yards tolerance) at modified actual launch conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127mph and based on a calibration setup of 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second.

Read more: details of the new proposal and insight from Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA, and Thomas Pagel, USGA chief governance office

“It’s about time!” says Mike Clayton, a partner at golf course architecture firm Clayton, DeVries & Pont. “Great championship courses the world over have been extended to their limits in order to keep up with modern technology which has completely altered the scale of the game and how the great architects of an era long past wanted their courses to play. It’s not before time the administration has acted to restore the intent of the architects of the Golden Age era.”

American golf course designer Ron Prichard says: “After dragging their feet for decades, any effort by the USGA and R&A to re-establish the character and challenge of our great golf courses is extremely hopeful.”

British golf course architect Adrian Stiff says: “Some courses need 15 per cent taking off the ball, others probably none. I think it should be more a thing the golf course does. It’s a good start at the elite level, but hopefully some of the great courses that are not so long can have a ‘ball’ that restores the design intent.”

Christian Lundin, golf course architect for (re)GOLF and Henrik Stenson Golf Design, is unconvinced by the new proposals: “I don’t think we should try to go back in time: that has never proven to be a good way forward. I don’t see an issue with players shooting low numbers at a tournament but it’s not great to see them crush the old classics. In all honesty, there are not many old classics left on tour schedules. And when they are playing them in the majors, the courses seem to hold up quite well even though the maintenance needs to be on the edge.

“Sustainability-wise, we have a bigger problem with new courses needing more and more land use, but these proposals do not even try to address that as this is only for top players.”

The USGA and R&A’s proposal follows extensive research into hitting distance, with its Distance Insights report finding that “the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has adverse consequences, including increasing the cost and time to play, limiting the advancement of sustainability efforts and reducing the challenge of courses – in some cases creating a risk of them becoming obsolete.”

Read more: the European Institute of Golf Course Architects collated responses for the Distance Insights survey in 2020