Golf governing bodies propose rule change to reduce ball distance

Golf’s governing bodies have proposed a new rule to give tournament organizers the option to require the use of a distance-reducing ball over fears that elite players are taming courses too easily.

Advances in fitness and technology have enabled golfers to hit the ball further — at last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, world number three Rory McIlroy hit a tee shot 362 yards.

The R&A, which organizes the British Open, and fellow rule-makers US Golf Association (USGA), said in 2020 they intended to “break the ever-increasing cycle of hitting distance”.

Since then they have been consulting with equipment manufacturers and on Tuesday they announced the proposal of a Model Local Rule (MLR) that would give organizers the option to use specially adapted balls.

Speaking in 2021, Masters chairman Fred Ridley said a specific “Masters ball” would be a last resort in the battle to limit hitting distances.

The par-five 13th hole at Augusta National has been extended by 35 yards for next month’s Masters.

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

The proposal was sent to equipment manufacturers on Monday and they can provide feedback until August 14. If adopted, it would take effect in January 2026.

Under the proposals, a ball struck at a laboratory-controlled swing speed of 127 miles per hour must not travel more than 320 yards (293 meters).

The change is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14 to 15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.

“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years, said USGA CEO Mike Whan.

“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.”

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: “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 US PGA Tour said it would continue its own “extensive independent analysis” and would collaborate with the USGA and the R&A.

“The Tour remains committed to ensuring any future solutions identified to benefit the game as a whole, without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport,” it said in a statement.

David Maher, the chief executive of leading equipment company Acushnet, warned the proposal “would be detrimental to golf’s long-term well-being”, stressing the need for a unified set of rules.

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