The R&A and USGA have proposed a Model Local Rule (MLR) that gives competition organisers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.
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 Tuesday, following the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures established by the governing bodies in 2011. Manufacturers and golf stakeholders can provide feedback until 14 August 2023. If adopted, the proposal would take effect in January 2026.
Golf balls that conform to the MLR must not exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (290 metres, plus three yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127mph and based on a calibration set-up for 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2,220rpm) as part of this proposal.
All other balls, including those typically used by recreational golfers with lower swing speeds, would continue to be tested using the existing ALC values (120mph, and a calibration set-up of 10 degrees and 42 revolutions per second – 2,520rpm). The current ODS limit of 317 yards will remain unchanged and would be applied to both testing set-ups.
Over the past 20 years hitting distance has increased on average by around one yard per year and the modified testing set-up in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.
“At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimise the impact on a flourishing recreational game,” said Martin Slumbers, CEO of The R&A.
“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.”
“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years,” added Mike What, CEO of the USGA.
“It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances. Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon.
“The MLR we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game.”
The governing bodies have consulted closely with the golf industry throughout the Distance Insights project, which commenced in 2018 but has been of continual study over at least the last two decades. This is the fourth formal feedback period to be opened in the last five years, in addition to continuing stakeholder engagement across the game, including golfers, fans, competition organisers, equipment manufacturers, golf course owners, superintendents, architects and others.
The R&A and USGA set out to address the long-term trend of increased hitting distances and course lengthening that they believe threaten golf’s long-term sustainability and undermines the core principle that a broad and balanced set of playing skills should remain the primary determinant of success in golf.
The findings of extensive research by the governing bodies into distance (along with the supporting research and data) were set out within the Distance Insights report into the Implications of Hitting Distance in February 2020 under two key themes: the pressure on courses to continue to lengthen and ensuring that distance did not become predominant in the balance of skills required in golf.
The report also found that the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has adverse consequences, including by 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.
The 2022 Annual Driving Distance Report reports a four per cent average year-over-year increase in hitting distance across all seven tours, with all but the Japan Golf Tour and LPGA Tour reporting the longest values on record. The Korn Ferry Tour recorded the highest annual hitting average across all tours in 2022, at 307.8 yards.