USGA, R&A Enter “Solution Phase” Of Distance Debate

Nearly a year after the USGA and R&A released their Distance Insights Report, golf’s governing bodies took their next step toward curbing excessive distance in the game, primarily at the professional and elite amateur level.

The 2021 R&A/USGA Research Topics – Areas of Interest release outlined three proposed changes to equipment rules and testing standards as well as six other “areas of interest” that were previously delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After two years of research and crafting a statement of conclusions, it was our hope to say that now we are going to get into the beginning of the solution phase,” Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA, told Golfweek.com. “That was to be in March of 2020, and obviously, with COVID, we rightfully delayed that.

“This is about long-term, for the whole of the game. I think golfers need to understand that this every-generation-hits-the-ball-farther is affecting the game negatively. The cost of this is being borne by all golfers. We’re just trying to fit the game of golf back on golf courses.”

The headliner proposals in this “solution phase” begins with three potential changes that would impact equipment manufacturers: placing a 46-inch limit on driver shaft length (48″ is the current limit); an updated method to test golf balls; and a change to characteristic time (CT) tolerance testing, which tests the spring-like effect on the clubface.

All of these proposed changes will fall under “model local rules,” which would be enacted “for use only in competitions limited to highly skilled players (that is, professional and elite amateur competitions),” according to the release.

In other words, these model local rules offer an option to bifurcate the rules at the elite level without fully and officially bifurcating the rules across the board.

The six “areas of interest” are research opportunities to look into everything from shorter-flying golf balls to smaller-headed drivers.

According to GolfChannel.com, “these are targeted research topics that are exploring: a reduction in the limit to the overall distance standard; modification in the limitation of ball efficiency; other ball specifications (size, mass); reduction in the performance of drivers, including club length and clubhead dimensions (i.e. volume); changes in the clubhead specifications on spring-like effect and moment of inertia, also considering the utilization of radius of gyration limitations; and production of spin from all clubs from all areas of the course.”

There will be a research and feedback-gathering timeframe for the proposals and areas of interest that will go though November 2021.

“We will also evaluate the potential use of a local rule option to specify use of a defined subset of conforming clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances and/or an enhancement in the balance between distance and other skills,” the release said. “The concept is that a committee or golf facility would have the option of requiring the use of equipment meeting these specifications or a subset of them.”