Seeing Through Distance

My Q&A several weeks ago addressed this issue and suggested that, the perception that there is a problem, is in itself a problem. This perception is once again taking hold and from what I read the governing bodies are strongly suggesting that something must be done – for various reasons — to reduce the distance the ball goes. Part of the justification for this concern is based on statistics gathered from Tour events in various countries.

Rolling the ball back has many downsides and few upsides when the problem is based on the performance of less than 0.01 % of the golfing population. If the solution is to roll the ball back for this group of players — bifurcation of the Rules of Golf — this is something the governing bodies, for many years, have been very reluctant to do as it violates one of the fundamental tenets of the game.

As important is the fact that bifurcation is difficult to implement, recognizing that the elite players come from the ranks of the golfing population and would need to change their equipment (ball) when competing in or trying to qualify for, major tour events. There are just too many awkward steps to get there to make it practical.

The solution may therefore be to roll the ball back for all golfers.

This is a fairly drastic move when we recognize that less than 0.01% may be causing the problem.

With the assumption that the governing bodies decide to roll the ball back – instead of modifying the course setup for Tour events to discourage the long hitters from hitting it as far as they can – they must be completely transparent every step of the way.

Using real scientifically analyzed data to justify each move or the reversal of a move is needed, as well as careful consideration of the consequences of any proposed move. Transparency is essential and must be afforded to the governed if their support of any proposal is expected. Without this support the governors lose their authority to govern.

Complete transparency and justification every step of the way is essential for a peaceful transition to any form of change.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts below.



25 thoughts on “Seeing Through Distance

  1. Should we really care how far the elite players hit and how low their scores can get? Like most other 70+ year old golfers I can’t come even remotely close to how far I used to hit in my younger days, e. g., 260 yards+ off the tee – and that was with persimmon woods and balata balls! I admire how the elite players perform today, and all I care for me personally is that the “tough” courses offer enough sets of tees to accommodate my current skill level. As a matter of fact, if more people matched their tee selection to their ability, it would go a long way to improve the pace of play issue.

  2. Recreational golfers seem to be getting older.The average age in the club house on a Saturday afternoon is at least 66!
    in summer when there is no roll on the wet fairways the front tees are crowded! We,the aging Recreational golfer do not need to hit it shorter !!
    Do what you like with the Pros’,they are afterall merely Entertainers like the film stars!!

    Their game bares NO resemblance to the game played at the local clubs including the Club Champions performance,anymore than the High School Play bares resemblance to Shakespeare performed at Avon !

  3. Distance can be mitigated by course setup. More sharp doglegs, punishing rough, narrow fairways, more traps at the distance longer hitters might go for. Also I see a lot of greens that have too many flat surfaces. Slanting and rolling surfaces will add challenge.

  4. Regarding “bifurcation”, why don’t the shorter courses just change par for the professionals? I mean, if most professionals can reach a par 5 in two, then make it a par 4 for them, and keep it a par 5 for the other 99.9% of us. Rather than change the ball, or the clubs, or whatever, for amateurs, just recognize the state of the professional game and adjust the tournament conditions accordingly. The golfer with the lower score always wins, whether they’re competing on a Par 72, 70 or 68 course.

  5. I am really weary of the tirade.

    The ball does not go too far. A very few elite athletes, even on the tour it is not a huge percentage, hit extraordinary distances. Great, I love seeing it. It inspires me. There are plenty of courses to challenge them. As we saw last week at Pebble Beach which plays at about 6800 yards, 8000 yard courses are not necessary to challenge them.

    I listened at first to the courses being made obsolete, costs too much to build new courses, blah, blah, blah. It is just not necessary. It is not like there is extensive need or desire to build new courses for these elite players.

    There are no courses that are obsolete for me!!

    I could see maybe holding the ball to its current level, but roll it back? I don’t hit it far enough now.

    Thanks, Frank, for being the voice of reason.

  6. Both Frank and Tom McAllister make good point. One thing that gets overlooked in these discussions if the cost to the amateur golfer. Almost all new course built over the last 15 + years have been 7000 yards plus so the developer can claim a “Championship” course. The longer courses are made to be championship, the more it costs to maintain them and the more it costs to play.
    We do not play the same equipment as the pros, no matter what OEMs try to tell you. Bifurcation makes sense. Let the amateur keep what he has and come up with a “Tour Ball” for pro tours.

  7. Why take five steps backwards? Don’t the “powers that be” realize that we are looking at such a very small percentage of the golfing population? Why ruin the game for everybody else when there should be other options to help with this challenge. We are losing players every year since the courses are getting longer and longer to entice that small percentage to play at a specific course for this or that tournament. Some courses are no longer fun to play as they have made them too long for the average golfer. Hopefully, calm-thinking minds will prevail and do what’s right for the entire golfing population.

  8. Totally agree with Frank BUT. Been a single digit handicap and avid golfer for 70 yrs. The distance discrepancy between the elite and the average golfer has been growing for many years and this in addition to improving the pace of play calls for a bifurcation. The distance between championship and senior tees has remained fairly constant at about 70 yards while driving distance between the elite and average golfer is now well over 100 yards. And it’s not just the driver but every club in the bag. Most elite golfers can reach almost all par 5’s in two and I’m one of very few super super seniors who can make that claim. Many senior events now play OB and lost ball as a lateral hazard to shorten time of rounds. There’s already a bifurcation of rules regarding wedges and distance measuring devices. Cost and time are recognized as the major factors inhibiting golf participation. The time has come for the USGA to do something other than TV commercials. They must decide whether they primarily represent the tiny elite or the many millions of recreational golfers. Par is just a number not a holy grail.

  9. As a PGA Golf Professional at a private Club for 46 years, I have witness a lot of change in the game. As difficult as it would be to do, I think bifurcation in some way shape or form will be on the horizon. Not only the game, but people have changed. My 1st Club Championship while at my Club consisted of 120 players…that has shrunk to, on a good year, maybe 40 players.

    Folks played the game not just for enjoyment, but for the competition. In today’s society, people play golf for the FUN!…Boom boxes,un-tucked shirttails, having a few beers and cutting up with their buddies.. They have enough stress in their lives..they come to the course to get away from everyday stress….competitive golf is stressful…certainly rewarding if you play well, but nonetheless stressful. Certainly there are still a few (but shrinking rapidly) players who play the game for the competition and want to hold on to the traditional values of golf but I don’t think golf will be able to sustain itself, (much less grow) counting on those traditional golfers.

    The events that appeal to folks these day…We just had 108 players (max…with a Waiting List of 23) play in our Winter Calcutta. (3-man Captains Choice).We had 120 play in our Spring 2 Man Captains Choice last April…we had 140 play in our July 4th Wing Ding (4-Man Captain’s Choice)…non stressful golf…32 play in our Senior Club Championship (individual Stroke Play)…38 in the Club Championship (individual stroke play).

    We don’t need to take away the FUN away from those recreational golfers but at the same time, how can a William McGirt (a TOUR Professional Member of our Club who does not have the swing speed of the “big” boys) be expected to compete on the crazy long courses that exist on the TOUR for the most part?…certainly he can compete for a day or 2 at the US Open or have a phenomenal week of putting,, but over 4 days of hitting long/middle irons (even hybrids) into greens while the big hitters are hitting short irons/wedges…well, you can guess at the outcome.

    I have had the good fortune of playing Augusta National on 4 occasions…3 of which were pre-lengthing. Certainly, the 1st time…mid 70″s…I could compare and equate myself against the best in the game…could not hit it as far as Nicklaus/Weiskopf but certainly as far as Crenshaw…and the distance between Crenshaw and Nicklaus was not as great as it is today (but I have no stats to backup that statement). Post lengthening of August…well the course was virtually unplayable for me….hittting a 4-iron into #7 green…no chance! What is difference in average length between average/short hitters and the bombers?…McGirt/Johnson for example…also take into account that Johnson does not hit Driver every hole and can often throttle back if he does.

    While all of us have enjoyed the increased distance (I am hitting the ball at the same distances I did 40 years ago…currently age 69).That’s nice and keeping me in the game, but at the highest levels, the extra swing speed enjoyed by some has created exponential distance…many guys on TOUR are no longer playing on the same golf course as those that can’t attain that speed.

    I know it won’t be easy,but for the sake of the future of the game…both recreational and Professional, I think it’s time to admit we are not all playing the same game nor for the same reasons. Let the recreational golfers have some FUN and play by the rules they are comfortable using but find a way to make it a level playing field for the TOUR Professionals at the same time. Tough challenge but I think achievable by some smarter folks than me. Having devoted these many years to trying to make my Members and their Guests have an enjoyable experience with the game I just want the game to grow and flourish..

    • Very thoughtful and insightful comments as well as a look into the future if we don’t change. Same as middle aged men playing half court basketball or not playing at all.

  10. If the powers that be roll the ball back, I’m sure some companies will continue to make the balls we currently play. They may become “illegal” but I don’t care. I will play them and I’m absolutely positive all my friends will, too. My personal opinion (which I acknowledge is worthless) is that those ‘powers that be” don’t really care one whit about those of us who play exclusively for fun and on less than premium courses. All their talk about ‘growing the game” is just that: talking the talk without walking the walk.

  11. Ball distance tests should be performed with 120 mph to 125 mph speeds, not 105 mph to 110 mph speeds. Lower-speed pro’s are not a threat to the game. Upper limits should be set for the danger, not the “middle class” of golfers.

  12. Rolling the ball back is a poor solution. If the tiny group of problem players had to play on the courses that the rest of us use, that might solve the problem.

    I’d like to see them play on uneven fairways full of divots with US Open rough all the time. Unraked traps, unfixed pitchmarks, and unswept leaves are the reality of normal golf. Add to that a stiff slow play penalty and they would be playing real golf, not their silver spoon game.

    Cut them back to eight clubs, and leave the ball alone.

  13. I believe that rolling back the distance a golf ball travels for over 99% of golfers everywhere and of all ages is ludicrous. It would make the game much more difficult for senior golfers, like myself, who have already lost distance.

    Despite all the advances in equipment and balls the average handicap has not dropped. More people have given up the game because it is difficult and frustrating.

    I have read that .60 cents of every dollar we pay for equipment goes to the pro’s who endorse that brand. What we buy at the pro shop and what the pro’s play with is about as similar as a 4 cylinder car, like the ones in our driveways and a Ferrari.

    The courses, they play on, need to be set up so they cannot just rip it off the tee and not be penalized for being in the rough. An errant drive should be penalized. The fairways can be narrowed and watered, rather than not being watered on tournament week, with any rough being penal.

    Most of us amateurs enjoy the majors because of the course set up for these guys who all hit it 300 yards +. They have to manage the course.

    It is not enjoyable to watch these guys shoot 20 or more strokes under par. Par should be something they have to strive for. What is wrong with a pro tournament winner shooting a few strokes under par?

    Please do not penalize the amateur golfers who love to play the game

    • Pros play the same equipment we do and the same ball. Those guys are good.
      I don’t enjoy many of the ludicrous setups where they putted off the green at Shinnecock or rolled at right angles into the rough at Chambers Bay. The deep rough also caused a wrist injury to Tiger. The USGA has made misguided decisions such as grooves, anchoring putters and coefficient of restitution and they haven’t changed scoring one iota but they have affected recreational golfers.

      • I believe you are mistaken about the pro’s playing the same equipment we do. Balls, like the ProV are probably the same…..but their equipment, other than the name on it…… is different.

        We may be fitted for a loft or lie adjustment…….but the pro’s spend countless hours being fitted with shafts, sole grinds for each club in the bag being put through the paces on a launch monitor etc. etc.

        I am keenly interested in equipment. I take every opportunity to find what’s in the bag of a tour guy. I have been building and working on clubs, as an amateur, for about 30 years. I am familiar with most shafts available for sale, but when I see the shafts they use in their woods I am totally lost. I am not familiar with their shafts. They are very exotic shafts in their woods.

        Certainly these guys are very good or they wouldn’t be there.

        The pro’s often have their clubs adjusted each week to correspond to the courses they are playing that week. All the OEM’s have their Tour Vans at that weeks venue. Often their irons are not available for sale to we mere mortals.

    • Gary Woodland played a Taylormade M3 with an Accra Tour Z RPG shaft and Ted Potter Jr. played a Ping G400 with a Project X HZRDUS T1100 Low Spin 65 shaft and were the winners in the last two tour events. Both of these shafts are readily available. Specialized fitting is available everywhere and using different bounce wedges for different sand conditions or a driving iron in windy conditions is hardly exclusive to tour pros. What they do with that equipment, however, is vastly different.

  14. Frank–I agree with you completely: It makes no sense to either roll back ball distance or have separate rules just because of a small percentage of elite golfers. My concern is that, rather than listen to members like me who as I age struggle to get acceptable distance for my shots, the powers-that-be will be influenced by championship course owners and manufacturers to limit distance for all. Imagine the sales pitches of the big OEMs: “Our newest and greatest can overcome the restrictions the USGA/R&A have inflicted on the ball. You need to buy new stuff now!” I’m afraid money will rule the day.

  15. As a 70 year old who can’t reach half the greens in regulation from the forward tees now, a shorter traveling ball is just what I need to quit the game for good.
    As for the pros, make the fairways narrower and the penalty for not hitting the fairway more severe.

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