Golf and the Problem with Distance

by Maura Hutchinson

According to a new impact study by the R&A and the USGA, golf has a serious distance problem. In short, increasing gains in distance over the last 100 years are fundamentally impacting the game.

The Distance Insights Project was released earlier this week and highlights the negative effects modern equipment and technology are having on golf. The sport’s two governing bodies have now published the two-year study which looks at how modern golf balls and golf clubs are impacting competitions, the environment and economic elements of the game. Their overall assessment being that something must be done to ensure that golf is sustainable in the future.

In the DIP, researchers concluded that overall course lengths have been pushed to the max for elite events, meaning the need for additional water, chemicals and other resources has increased. It also cites that the expanding of existing courses often requires a large capital investment as well as higher annual operating costs, usually passed on to members. In terms of how this affects average players, longer tees are increasing the times it takes golfers to complete a round.

The report states, “we believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end. Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable or sustainable in the future. In reaching this conclusion, our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.”

Moving forward the report states that golf’s Equipment Standards teams and Committees will now be looking into how they can address the issue of distance in the future. The DIP also states they will be publishing a more specific set of research topics in the next 45 days, spending another 9-12 months researching these. They will then decide whether any rule changes are needed.

The news was welcomed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus who Tweeted, he was “Pleased the process has started.”

But not all of the pros shared his enthusiasm. With Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson seeming less than concerned about the findings.