Earlier this month the USGA relayed some progress from their Distance Insights project started in March 2020, collecting some media attention and criticism from a few people who get paid a lot of money to wear logos on their hat.
The USGA’s study appears to have started about 30 years late and with testing measures from the same period. The purpose of the study is to stop the cycle of increasing distance which is making golf courses unchallenging to the best players in the world but also affects the average player by forcing courses to expand, renovate and lengthen their layouts.
Critics of the increased distance claim that the long-ball has taken much of the skill out of the game. The modern player doesn’t need to shape the ball or need nearly the strategy formerly required according to proponents of a “roll-back” in technology.
In reality most of the technology making former championship layouts play like pitch & putts benefits only the most elite players. The spring effect on the driver or the extreme benefits of the modern ball are only enjoyed by those generating massive clubhead speed.
None the less, the USGA has made it their mission to protect the game, for now, by examining the effects of increased distance on the game and, soon later, they will likely put limits on the MOI (spring effect) of drivers, spin of the golf ball and distance the ball carries.
None of these are new rules actually but the manufacturers have been miles ahead of the USGA’s testing processes for decades now.
As part of this process the USGA has talked to several parties including the best players and top manufacturers but surprisingly not golf course owners and operators who are effected most by the increase in distance.
The top manufacturers and their sponsored ambassadors claim there is no problem with increased distance and that it is just progress. At first glance this is probably the consumer’s view also until you consider that the consumer is the one ultimately paying for this. Every golf course lengthened and renovation requires investment which is passed on thought the green fee rate. Longer courses require more maintenance and irrigation, also paid for by the consumer.
In fact a shorter course requires less property, less maintenance, less irrigation and less time to play. The longer layouts result in greater distances between holes making walking unrealistic at many venues.
Using less water and electricity is definitely better for the environment. Slow play has been the game’s biggest challenge for years. Perhaps the USGA is on the right path to making the game more accessible to everyone.
It’s tough to argue that the extreme launch angles and distance gains have taken away from some of the art of the game and the USGA plans to restore some of the skill necessary to play the game. Unfortunately, as they crawl to a conclusion on this topic, possible that it’s too little too late.