The question of distance in golf has always been at the center of lively debates. Already at the end of the 19th century there was discussion about the excessive length of the new gutta-percha balls, while in the 1960s and 1970s the rules on balls differed between the United States, Great Britain and the rest of the world.
Only in 1974 was the unification of the rules achieved, with the adoption of balls that flew less.
However, the enormous technological development of the last 25 years has brought about a significant change in the game: drive heads have become very large, irons and shafts are made with cutting-edge technologies and balls reach dizzying speeds.
While this has made golf easier and more accessible for amateurs, it has also subordinated the effects of the technical mastery of professionals to the performance of the equipment. For this reason, the R&A organization and the USGA recently announced a new ball rollback, which will result in a shortening of the maximum distance of a shot under certain conditions starting in 2030.
The size of golf courses has drastically decreased to meet the needs of professional players, leading PGA Tour tournaments to be considered, in our eyes, simple pitch & putt tournaments. The ability to hit the green with long irons was pushed into the background and the R&A and the USGA launched a study which analyzed the causes and effects of golfers' increasing length, highlighting the following discoveries.
First, each year the average length of Tour players increases by three feet, outpacing the increase in clubhead speed and physical abilities of golfers. Secondly, increasing player length means the additional need to add tees and move holes that are too dangerous, increasing construction and operating costs, negative environmental effect, and the time needed to complete a round.
In essence, the problem only affects a small percentage of players and, in addition to the economic and environmental impact, it is important to note how technology has changed the skills needed to shine in the sport. As a result, a new regulation on golf balls has been introduced.
The proposal to introduce a local rule, applicable only to elite competitions, had been put forward as a result of a study. In this way, professionals and the best amateurs would have played a low flight ball, while for ordinary golfers nothing would have changed.
However, the proposal was rejected as it would have created a divide between professionals and amateurs. To avoid this problem, the R&A and the USGA have decided to adopt a single rule that will come into force in 2028 for professionals and 2030 for amateurs.
The main change is in the way the balls are tested: now, authorized balls will not be able to fly more than 317 yards if hit at 125 mph, instead of the previous 120 mph. As a result, authorized balls will fly slightly less.
A 270 meter drive will be approximately 10 meters shorter, a 210 meter drive will be approximately 4 meters shorter, and a 180 meter drive will lose approximately 2 meters. However, for most golfers, nothing will change. This is a change applicable only to high-level competitions and will have no effect on those playing for fun.
The new rule imposing a minimum distance of 230 meters with the drive may go unnoticed by many players. In fact, a ball damaged or recovered from a lake already flies less than those that will be used with the new rules. Furthermore, around a third of the balls on the market will still be compliant in 2028.
However, for more experienced players who need more distance, there will be some limitations on longer holes, making them less short while maintaining the need for one or two more shots than before. This will ensure that the big leagues can still be hosted, but not to the point that you will see a player like Rory McIlroy use a 5-iron on the second shot at a Par 4.
This first change is just the beginning of a renewal process that will lead to further changes. The USGA is already looking at limitations on the size of the drive head. Golf is a game of delicate balance, and the job of the R&A and the USGA is to make decisions to maintain it.
As in tennis, where rackets were regulated in 2000, and in baseball aluminum bats were banned, golf equipment must be properly regulated to make the game attractive and engaging at a competitive level, without compromising the performance of the players. amateurs.