Last week the R&A and USGA released ‘The Distance Insight Report,’ delivering a comprehensive 102 pages of research data and analysis about the contributors to, and long-term impacts of, hitting distance in golf.
100 long years
If you pride yourself on your long drives or you’re a data nerd, you’ll like the R&A’s report with its wide variety of related data going back over 100 years of hitting golf balls at all levels of the game. There’s also some interesting research on our attitudes to the sport. However, if you just don’t have the time to review the report in full, I’ll paraphrase the key findings for you:
- We are hitting the ball longer and courses are lengthening too.
- On many courses, the challenges from the tee are being overcome by longer hitting. Some courses can’t change to compensate.
- Longer hitting undermines the principle of demonstrating a core set of skills. Presumably this implies it’s increasingly becoming a drive, chip and putt game for long hitters.
- Lengthening courses and consuming more resources are at odds with societal environmental concerns.
- Longer courses increase playing time, and that takes golf in the wrong direction for increasing participation.
What’s going to be done?
“No solutions have been determined as yet,” according to the report. But there are some proposals to put the brakes on increasing distance in golf. These are mainly focused on testing standards and equipment rules to limit the energy delivered by clubs and the distance balls would fly. Anyone who follows Formula 1 motor racing will be familiar with the battle between innovation designed to increase speed and rules designed to restrict it.
I’m still challenged
So while this report naturally brings to mind the big tour pro hitters, how might amateurs like you and me feel the impact? I don’t know about you, but I can still comfortably find plenty of hazards, in all weathers, around the landing zone of my drives from the yellow or white tees. And that’s before you take into consideration the increasing variation and severity of weather conditions.
I checked the overall club length of my Titleist driver using the R&A method and it was 45” – well within the 48” maximum allowed under current rules. I even grip down a bit for better accuracy. Reducing maximum overall club length to 46” will not force me to purchase a new driver. Just don’t tell my girlfriend when my new 46” driver gets delivered.
When it comes to golf balls, there are a huge range of constructions and compression ratings to choose from that might suit all golfers. I prefer a softer-feeling mid-to-low compression ball which, in theory, limits distance but helps with spin control. If new ball testing rules forced manufacturers to make changes, I don’t think I would notice the difference. I’m not an elite player whose every shot is measured and analysed.
Adapting to change
I can’t help thinking that any changes to equipment rules will only temporarily rein in the elite at the top of their game and provide rules-enforced market opportunities for brands to sell us their newly compliant kit. But even with equipment changes, tour pros will evolve and just get fitter and stronger to compensate. But the likes of you and me still have plenty of scope for increasing distance by gripping higher, swinging a bit faster and using a harder ball – in theory.
But then again – wouldn’t it just be easier to make the fairways a wee bit narrower, rough just a bit longer and make the landing zone harder to find at long distance – giving back some land to nature?
So long and stay safe
Are you hitting it longer? Send us your thoughts on distance control in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll mention some of the best in our monthly newsletter.
Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and enthusiastic improver. Paul has an average drive carry distance of 243 yards at 29.9m above sea level at 15C with minimal wind.
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