Why Not Bifurcation?

Frank, in a future missive, please enumerate the arguments against bifurcation. I commend to you Jimmy Walker’s recent rant.



I would like to quote from a previous ‘missive’ of mine in November last year regarding the furor about the ball going too far.

It started with –” “Our longest holes are a little more than a drive and a putt.” ……. “If the carrying power of the ball is to be still further increased, all our courses will be irretrievably ruined as a test of the game.” — as expressed by USGA president R.H. Robertson in 1902.”

Thankfully — even though the “carrying power of the ball” has increased somewhat – our courses have not been, “… irretrievably ruined as a test of the game.” In fact, most courses – other than those which have been designed to accommodate the very elite players, and are thus unplayable for most golfers — are still very playable and certainly not too short to adequately challenge more than 99% of the golfing population.

The knee jerk reaction – which has not been thoroughly vetted — is to say that we should change the rules for only those who are causing the problem – i.e. bifurcation of the Rules. There are many “local rules” and “conditions of competition” that are effectively adopted for elite competition and not used otherwise; so why not extend this to the ball specifications?  Changing the ball specifications is not a playing rule affecting how a competition is conducted but an across the board change in the rules affecting everybody, which is undesirable. 

The solution to the problem – which may be a “perceived problem” — must therefore be bifurcation.

This is, in itself a problem and not an option because it upends the tenets of the game, which are so clearly stated in the Joint Statement of Principles drawn up by the USGA/R&A, which states in part that, “The USGA and the R&A continue to believe that the retention of a single set of rules for all players of the game is one of golf’s greatest strengths.”  This belief goes without saying and has been part of the game since its inception.

Other than the fact that bifurcation is profoundly at odds with that which has been generally accepted for hundreds of years, it is impractical and extremely difficult to implement as those who aspire to be elite players and play in The Open or the U.S. Open, come up through the ranks to qualify and must therefore change their ball in the process.

Mark, after thinking this through for a minute or so, one will probably find that the medicine is worse than the disease, and that the disease may not be life threatening. There are also less disruptive solutions to this concern, such as course set up.

Hope this gives you an insight into my thoughts on the subject.

As always, your comments are welcomed below.




11 thoughts on “Why Not Bifurcation?

  1. Given the fact that the vast majority of recreational golfers struggle to break 90 and golf balls already come in a variety of designs for different swing speeds, etc., I don’t understand why a “tournament” golf ball for elite high swing speed golfers is controversial at all. It seems a far more practical solution than rebuilding golf courses. Manufacturers would simply have to optimize other areas of the ball rather than distance. Further, considering the skill level of the vast majority of golfers, I wonder if it would affect our scoring much, if at all!

  2. Dear Frank;
    I fully agree with you on this question.
    It is surely a perceived problem, as you say. As our Club’s Director in charge of our golf course, I know that course set-p is the way to resolve this perceived problem.
    Keep up the great work.

  3. I am not opposed to bifurcation,. Last week Rory had 116 yards for his second shot into a par 5. That is not the kind of golf I prefer. Why is the baseball model where metal bats are used at lower levels but wood bats mandatory for the very best not a good comparison? Another example is bowling where the PBA pros play on very difficult conditions compared to what you find at your local center. Nobody wants to see the pros averaging 260 on a regular basis.

    • I agree with your dislike of modern golf. The tendency on this site is to blame the spring effect of the driver, but that ignores the 230 yard forged blade 6 iron. The tendency on this site is to credit bigger and better athletes, but that ignores the fact that tiny Korean girls and fat 50 plus Champions Tour players have realized huge gains in distance just as the gym rats have.
      There are two very important reasons why there will be no change.
      One: The USGA has no legally binding authority. If the PGA Tour, being in the Sports Entertainment business, decided that 500 yard drives sell tickets and increase TV ratings, and it was possible to produce such equipment, the USGA could do nothing to stop it.
      Two: The PGA Tour sells equipment. It is essential to maintain the belief that the equipment sold at retail is the same equipment used on the Tour, and “you too” can buy that gear and hit it ten miles, even if that is total fantasy. Scaled down Tour Only equipment would be bad for business.
      The other tendency on this site is to say that existing courses can be modified to essentially take the driver out of the players’ hands. We are seeing some of this, as the Driving Iron has suddenly come back into style. This isn’t going to last long. People pay to see pros hit the driver. I would pay to see them try to squeeze a 250 yard driver into a 25 yard wide fairway, but when it can be done with a 5 iron I have no interest.

  4. Frank, I agree with you as usual. The distance the ball travels is mainly an issue for the elite players. It should be left to the tour as to how best to deal with this since there are many possible solutions. The ball does not go too far for over 99% of golfers. If the tour wants to progressively narrow fairways past 275 yards, use a different ball or grow deeper rough it’s their decision. The USGA should focus on its core constituency rather than trying to prevent technological advances and defending par at all costs. They have been distracted by grooves, coefficient of restitution, long putters and its ilk for too long.
    The use of water, improved turf, limitation of chemicals, pace of play and cost of golf should be their immediate focus. There aren’t many who can play from the championship tees and 3 inch rough.

  5. I submit that we already have bifurcation of the rules at the recreational level. Some would call this not playing by the Rules of Golf.

  6. When designing or redoing current golf courses, why not make a few ( maybe 4-5) long holes to “Reward” the long hitters who deserve reward for being able to hit it 350 yards and then construct dog legs, water or sand hazards on the remaining holes so tee ball placement is rewarded.

  7. To say “there can’t be bifurcation because having one set of Rules is one of the game’s biggest strengths” begs the question of WHY it is one of the game’s biggest strengths. The worst argument for anything is “because that’s how it’s always been.”

    The practical argument is a different one, but back when the Rules WERE bifurcated — when a smaller ball was in use in the R&A’s jurisdiction — American players were quite capable of adjusting to it, even for a very short period of time.

    Basketball manages to exist with different Rules for college and pro; football and baseball likewise. I have no doubt golf would do equally well should it adopt some common-sense differences in the Rules between the pro and amateur games.

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