Should the Golf Ball be Rolled Back?

Consider the following two quotes:

Our longest holes are little more than a drive and a putt. My feeling is that if the game continues to improve in the matter of its length and we get just a little more resiliency in the ball and a little better clubs than we have now, the game in [the] future will be relegated to the only place where it can be played, and that is on the great prairies of our Western country.

If the carrying power of the ball is to be still further increased, all our golf courses will be irretrievably ruined as a test of the game.”

These very modern sentiments were actually expressed in 1902 by USGA President R.H. Robertson and in 1910 by Golf Illustrated, respectively. The battle between rules makers and distance in golf has been going on for as long as there have been rules makers. (As written in our book “From Sticks and Stones: The Evolution of Golf Equipment Rules”).

I spent many years of my life ensuring that golf ball distance was controlled with the appropriate testing and standards in place to monitor progress. A major objective was to make certain that golf ball technology did not substitute for the skill required to play the game.

We often hear rumblings from the governing bodies with regards to testing a shorter ball and some golfers believe that the golf ball should be rolled back.

However, the question is why? As I have pointed out in articles previously, there is something contradictory about the idea of rolling the golf ball back and encouraging recreational amateur golfers to play from forward tees. Additionally if we consider the data from the PGA Tour we find that over the last seven years with all the modern technology available to the pros, the average driving distance on the Tour has decreased and not increased. This is as I predicted 15 years ago.

Please share your thoughts on this topic below. Do you think that the ball is going too far and should be rolled back?

Frank Thomas was Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years,  invented the graphite shaft and redesigned and introduced the Stimpmeter to the game of golf. He has spent the last 12 years researching putting and operates the state of the art Frankly Putting PAD at Reunion Resort in Orlando, FL, helping golfers improve their putting.

For more about Frank, click here.

31 thoughts on “Should the Golf Ball be Rolled Back?

  1. Regards the tees we play off in the UK the stigma regards tees is firmly entrenched in your gender, ladies are red, men yellow, white/blacks for the so called good players.
    Very few players will play a course that is the length that suits tem or the conditions of the day, always almost as if it is requirement they MUST go to a certain tee every time they play. For me the pleasure is to play a variety of shots, make par and birdies when I can an not feel the course has slaughtered me once again and if I am lucky have just survived my round.
    Play from where you feel comfortable when playing with your mates, take the conditions into account and you never know you may get round in about 3 hours!!!!!

  2. Hey Frank and fellow golfers:

    I have been playing golf for 63 years and my handicap has fluctuated between 6 and 8 for the last 40 years ( I am now 71.5 years old ). I started playing with Dunlop 65 balls, which came wrapped in black cellophane. My home course is the Mayan Golf Club near Guatemala City ( rating of 71.9 and slope of 130 from the middle markers, which play at over 6,700 yds…..www.mayangolfclub.com ). My average drive is 240+ yds. of carry, plus the 25 to 30 yds. of roll I get in our dry season ( Nov. to May ). No way I could still play ( and enjoy ) this wonderful game if it were not for the equipment and ball improvements. My family lived in the U.S.of A. from 1956 to 1972. During those years I played H.S. and College golf. In 1962 our college team won its conference and I was fortunate enough to play in the NCCA finals that year, played at the Duke U. course, and won by Houston U. under legendary coach Dave Williams ( I did not make the cut after 36 holes, but it was a wonderful experience nevertheless ). The individual winner was Kermit Zarley, who later played in the PGA and Senior tours.

    The equipment controversy is a non-issue, in my opinion. Traditinal courses that purists feel are being “obsoleted” by modern equipment technology were designed with many doglegs in both directions. To toughen these traditional courses, one only needs to let the 2nd. cut rough grow, plus add some strategically placed pot bunkers, and make the greens harder and faster. I am the Chairman of the Greens Committee at our Club; and I have made these modifications. However, I have also added shorter markers for golfers who do not have the distance and skills to play and enjoy the game from the middle and back markers. Equipment improvements are not the issue. The answer lies in smart golf course design, with angles, strategically placed obstacles, and hard and fast greens, when they are required.

    Passing to another controversy, I also think the banning of anchoring the long and belly putters as of 2016 ( after allowing it for more than 30 years ) is a mistake, because it is an attempt to legislate how one must fairly strike at the ball. Billy Casper and Mr. Palmer anchored the putter for years and the governing bodies said nothing. Arguing that by anchoring the putter one eliminates the tremors that are caused by the pressure of certain competitive situations ( as some legends of golf have maintained ) is nonsensical, to say the least. Tremors in putting for most sufferers are a result of an inherited neurological condition ( as myself ). It would be ludicrous to say that Ben Hogan could not “handle” the pressures of competitive golf in the latter years of his carrer. He, as many golfers, got the “yips” after a certain age ( with me it happened after I turned 36…..and my Mom and sisters developed the same condition after the late 30’s ).

    I know I have said a mouthfull. But I just chomped at the bit to put forth my opinions, which are backed by many years of playing and watching competitive golf; and studying various aspects of the game. And let me say also that I saw various players in the 50’s that could hit those wound balls with the persimmon driver over 350 yds.; George Bayer, Chick Harbert and Mike Souchak come to my mind. And only Souchak won somewhat regularly on the PGA Tour. So then as today, its still a game of skill…..getting the ball in the hole with a great short game, especially with the flat stick. But of course there have to be the exceptions: Jack and Tiger hit it a mile, BUT they got the job done with the scoring clubs ( 32 Majors between them ).
    Q.E.D.
    I wish you all a great week and a happy Holiday Season.

  3. I went looking in the comments for 3 Hall of Fame Golfers names associated with rolling the golf ball back. Gary Player was a guest on the Golf Channel and he came out and never even said hello. He ranted how the Golf ball MUST be rolled back even before he sat down. Arnold and Jack have also express their opinions of roll back also. I can only guess their golf courses have been destroyed by the long hitting professionals and they do not like it. I am 100% against it. I want to see “Home Runs”, not Cayman style golf courses. Let the Big Boys Hunt.

    • “Home Runs” mean nothing when they are the result of something (hot equipment) other than the skill of the player. See “Steroid Era” in baseball for example.

  4. When you finally come up with 2 sets of rules then roll the ball back for the pros. If you want to grow the game of golf let the non pros have fun. Bigger drivers more COR and hotter balls.

  5. The answer is no. Many of the comments have shown good reasons to leave it alone. Only a Luddite would roll technology back. Should we go back to the Model T because todays cars go too fast and we have to change the roads to accommodate the greater speeds? At my age (70) I try to take advantage of every club and ball improvement. They have helped keep my distances constant for the last 20 years. I still play from the middle tees and average score is 84. By the way I saw a “whats in the bag” in a golf magazine where the player had a Pro V1X+. Apparently the + is not available to us.

    • “Should we go back to the Model T because todays cars go too fast and we have to change the roads to accommodate the greater speeds?”

      If such a change were being considered today the answer would have to be YES in order to save money.

      Just as it should have been with the golf ball and the expense of lengthening existing courses and building longer new ones.

      Thanks for helping make my point!

  6. There have always been high club speed golfers. Every generation has had its share. However, the old wood drivers had such low moment of inertia that it was difficult to hit super-long straight drives. Now those with high club speed can be sufficiently accurate to win at the highest level. The large headed drivers share a significant amount of responsibility for increased drive distance.

    A second problem may be that the speed at which balls were tested was well below 120 mph. So we may be restricting amateurs while allowing long-driving pro’s some advantage.

  7. Well think of this, 5 years from now we are playing with rolled back balls, but the guy you are playing against sneaks in an old ball once in a while and blasts it down the fairway. would this be cheating? it would take a quite a few years to get rid of all our present day balls. Not very practical I think.
    Dave
    .

    • Not a problem in serious competition.
      And if it’s a problem with your friends I’d suggest you find new friends.

  8. Hickory golf has been experimenting with a standardized ball-The Victor-essentially a low compression with mesh pattern rather than dimples.The pattern limits the flight and spin a little bit but not enough to be unplayable but enough to put the classic courses in play again. This isn’t a ball that will make all par 5s just long 4s but it’s acceptance with those who love the original game shows that the play can be more enjoyable than distance and air time.For those of you that can’t hit it 300yrds, find a hickory group nearby and learn about shotmaking that doesn’t require core strength and ever new technology. Your modern game will improve if you actually want to return to it.

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