Is the Ball Going Too Far?

This question first surfaced about the time of the invention of the Haskell Ball in 1890 – the first rubber-thread wound ball.

In 1920, the USGA became alarmed and started a blitz – which has not abated — on the ball specifications by specifying the weight and size and indicated that “It would take whatever steps they think necessary to limit the power of the ball with regard to distance should a ball of greater power be introduced.”

When I joined the USGA in 1974 I directed the development of the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) for golf balls. In 1976, the USGA introduced the ODS in the 1977 Rules of Golf book – with a note that this would not apply in international competitions –  as the R&A decided not to adopt the ODS at that time.

This Standard took into account all of those properties, including COR and aerodynamics, which contributed to the distance a ball could fly, without isolating them.

The Standard was 280 yards (+ a tolerance of 8%, which was later reduced to 4% ) and set using launch conditions similar to those of an average to long hitting tour professional at that time with a head speed of 160 ft/sec (approx. 109 mph).

The ODS was upgraded to more closely represent the longest hitting pros on tour using a titanium driver and increasing the club head speed. As a result the standard of 280 yards had to be increased to make sure no balls which were then on the conforming list would be removed using the modified standard.

The ball today is similar in performance to the older two-piece ball making it easier to attain optimum launch conditions off the driver but with extra layers and a softer cover making it more acceptable for the elite golfer to control around the greens.

Maybe it is not the ball but rather the club which is the real culprit adding to the distance that the tour players are now hitting the ball.

Based on documented statistics the Average Driving Distance on Tour (ADDT), was 255 yards in 1968 and 265 yards in 1995 — which means an increasing rate of about 1ft/year for 27 years of innovations in equipment, teaching techniques and physical fitness.

However, after the introduction of spring like effect in titanium drivers in 1995 AND the optimization of launch conditions by touring players using the combination of the titanium driver and the multilayered ball, the ADDT increased to about 287 yards in 2003 — a rate of about 8ft/year.

Since 2007 (with an ADDT of 288.6yds) to 2016 (with an ADDT of 290.2yds) the total average distance increased 4.8 feet or a rate of six- inches/year. Most statisticians may consider this purely noise in the data, which would imply that the ADDT has plateaued.

For this reason there is no real need to reduce the distance the ball goes or even introduce different performing balls for different skill levels (bifurcation of the rules) which will be very difficult to implement.


Just maybe the solution to the perceived distance problem is not to change the ball but to change the club (as unpopular as this may be) OR should we change the course design – not to make it any longer but rather a more strategic set-up for the tour players and elite golfers — who make up less than 0.1% of the golfing population.

The average recreational golfer is not making a mockery of courses and there is nothing wrong with the best of the best scoring under par on a strategically well set up golf course for major championships.

For 99% of us, most courses are too long and do not need to be lengthened. In fact, according to our research, courses should probably be shortened to around 6,200 yards for men and even less for women golfers, with less rough, which would make golf more enjoyable and consume less time.

Golf course architecture is the key to improving the health of the game.

I haven’t heard of anyone leaving the game because they are hitting the ball too far, have you?

Please share your thoughts below.



16 thoughts on “Is the Ball Going Too Far?

  1. It seems to me that the USGA no longer serves the common golfer and is more concerned with the small percentage of tour pro’s. If this is the case, limit the clubs a tour pro may carry in their bag during a tournament. Maybe no drivers? No long irons? They should leave the everyday golfers alone! I am now 58 years old and no longer hit driver 265 yards like when I was young.

  2. If the field consistently attempts to drive the greens on the 325 yd par 4s….Fine…just make those holes par 3s

  3. Can I just add to my earlier comments; if putting is 50% of the game (36 puts on a par 72 course) does it really matter if pros can’t hit the ball 320+ yards off the tee or hit a pitching wedge 140+ yards. Why not halt the development of the longer clubs and put more emphasis on putting and green design? Who wins the Majors each year? Inevitably, it is the player who handles the greens best. The rest of the game is just a side show.

  4. I still have my full set of MacGregor Tourneys purchased back in the early 1960’s,
    woods,irons & putter. Still love those clubs but broke down and bought a new set about 20 years ago. The only improvement is love for the game.

  5. I agree with your comment. The Ball? The Ball? Now Hale Irwin is joining The Big Three of years back to bring “The Ball” backwards. Obviously, except Mr. Palmer, the other 4 need to read your research. Thanks. We normal Golfers don’t agree with them. Speaking for me, I noticed, it was Babe Ruth (With Home Runs) built Yankee Stadium, NOT PITCHER DUELS. I want to see the Pros hit Home Runs, knowing I can’t.

  6. Arnold Palmer drove the first green at Cherry Hills in the last round of the 1960 US Open. In 2016, when the tour held the PGA at Cherry Hills, a number of current pros tried to duplicate that with a persimmon driver and a wound balata ball. Rory McIlroy came closest, but still short. In the 2016 tournament he FLEW that green with a “3 wood”.
    Not totally the ball. Maybe not even the ball at all.
    The main difference, aside from the equipment, is the playing strategy of today’s pros. They can miss cuts, be out of the top 25, and still make lots of cash for the one tournament in 15 when they are playing their best and get the breaks.
    Jim Furyk made 1.8 million dollars finishing second in two successive tournaments a short while ago. Sam Snead WON 82 tournaments in his career, and cleared $640,000 over a 30+ year period.
    Snead played well within himself, rarely hitting any club all out, as did most pros back then. Since Tiger came along swinging at 95% effort, and succeeded in his first ten years, the other pros bought into the same philosophy.
    My best drives 50 years ago, in my golfing prime (2 handicap) was 240-250. Now, at age 76, with a modern driver and tour ball, its 175-180. With a persimmon (yes, I still own two Citation drivers and one Citation 3 wood), I’m lucky to get 150.
    But I’m still on the right side of the grass!
    BTW, I had a local pro shop with Trackman monitors check out the difference between Titleist Velocity vs. ProV1. Guess what? I averaged 7 yards further with the ProV1 – and it actually spins enough so I can hold a green!

  7. HI Frank,

    It seems to me that the distance that elite players hit the ball increases each year proportional to the decrease in distances that I achieve. Maybe their increases in distance occur because they are sucking the life out of our shots?

  8. As usual, it’s easy for me to agree with Frank. Its not the ball, to a certain extent it is the club, specifically the driver. I would not advocate as Mike Henderson seems to, that we mandate smaller driver heads. The larger driver heads of today make the game more enjoyable for players of all skill levels. Perhaps a slight reduction might be in order, say down to the 427 CC’s I’m currently using but I certainly wouldn’t want to give up much more than that!

    As golf course architects we might convince ourselves that we can do things to “level the playing field” of in other words make the game easier for the masses and more difficult for the tour pros but we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can do much in that direction. The tour players are too good.

    Certainly, we can do much to make the game more enjoyable for the masses. A good case can be made for getting all players to move up to tees more compatible with our respective distances. The American Society of Golf Course Architects “Longleaf Tee Initiative” is a good place to start and I would everyone interested in this topic check out:

  9. Hello,
    Come on. Speak the truth and just come out and say it. Your statistics prove it. Distance and power has replaced skill and technique in our great game. What they play today is NOT golf but air darts! A driver with toaster on the end of the shaft! 460cc is just plain STUPID. The USGA and R&A need to step up and spend some dollars on lawyers’ fees to fight the club corporations. We know that is why they do nothing and try to twist those very statistics you just gave us. Do they think we public golfers are stupid? Change the size of heads, throttle back the spinning missile-ball and courses could be shorter which would require less money for maintenance and less time to play. This would solve major problems and bring more skill and technique back to the game. It is not a coincidence that modern golfers are tall and muscular. They can hit the ball that gives a mis-proportioned increase in distance to those with faster club head speed. Distance will always be an advantage, which it should, but it should never be THE determining factor as it is today.

  10. I personally need the ball to go farther. Ever since my heart ablation 3 yrs ago, I’ve lost 30 yds from my friver and 20 from each of my irons. I also want my grooves back so I can spin the ball a little bit. The USGA totally disregarded me when thay outlawed my good grooves in 2010. Pppphhhhtttt!

  11. This really isn’t an issue. For 99% of us, using the tees that suit our game is the best plan–and courses need to enforce it. Handicap under 10? Go ahead and use the tips. Handicap over 10–6000 yards or less. If the other 1% had fairways like ours, they wouldn’t get a hundred yards of roll. Just let the fairways grow to an inch long.

    • Boxing equipment hasn’t changed much over the years, tennis courts remain much the same even though the racquets have been tweaked over the years and bowling alleys and balls have remained much the same. Why the enthusiasm in the world of golf to design longer golf balls, ramp up the distances achievable with modern clubs and design new golf courses with downhill driving areas on many holes? 500 yard par 4’s and 600 yard par 5’s are totally unnecessary and the rule makers need to look at whether all this “improved” technology and design is necessary for the “99%” William Berninghausen (above) refers to.

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