Golf’s governing bodies have put forward a controversial new model local rule (i.e. applicable to the competition or course on which a game is being played), giving event organisers events the chance to use distance-limiting balls in elite competitions. (This will have no impact on those enjoying the game recreationally.)
The proposal has become quite the talking point in golf circles, with views for and against being put forward. After all, this is a game steeped in tradition and history, and one which perhaps doesn’t always accept new technology or revolutionary ideas super quickly.
The world’s number three, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, one of the world’s longest hitters and the winner of four Majors, has come out in favour.
He told a podcast: “I think it’s going to help identify the best players more easily.”
Meanwhile the number two, Jon Raham, as well as American pro Justin Thomas, have expressed their opposition to the move, which was put forward by the two leading bodies for the game, the R&A plus the United States Golf Association (USGA).
Better golfers and more advanced golfing technology
In recent years, as players have got fitter and technology has advanced, balls are travelling further. Pro golfers on the top European and US Tours can now hit balls so far that many leading courses used for competitions such as the four Majors are becoming too easy for the world’s finest.
While average driving distances stand at around 300m on the PGA Tour, many players comfortably hit further. Indeed, this figure has risen by around a yard a year over the last couple of decades.
To counter the ever-longer distances golfers are sending balls, some courses are being extended to accommodate this. One example is St Andrews, the Home of Golf, where we hold many of our junior camps. Although a relatively short course by modern standards, its size has already been extended a number of times. Meanwhile Augusta National Golf Club, for example, extended its fifth hole by 40 yards ahead of the Masters in 2019, and the par-five 13th by 35 yards.
However, there is an environmental cost to doing this, so one option is to design the balls used in elite competitions so that there is a limit on how far they can travel.
On the other side of the coin, spectators won’t see pro players perform at their maximum if they’re constrained by distance – so potentially they won’t be able to really stretch themselves.
Distance-reducing golf balls coming into play
The R&A and USGA said over two years ago that they wanted to ‘break the cycle of hitting distance’, while admitting that finding solutions could take years. They are now consulting equipment manufacturers, who have until mid-August to submit their feedback.
The proposal would be operational from early 2026, when competition organisers would have the option to oblige golfers to play exclusively with balls tested under modified launch conditions – i.e. so that the distance they could travel would be limited.
Balls would have to stay within the present overall distance standard limit of 320 yards when hit by a clubhead with a speed of 127mph under lab conditions.
We’ve followed the debate with interest here at My Pro Golf, while appreciating the fact that the move won’t have an impact on junior golf camps such as ours. And we’re gearing up for a great summer of golf – learn more here and get in touch to book your camp place or if you have any questions.