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PGA Tour Driving Distance Average Crosses 290-Yard Barrier

Courtesy of the PGA Tour's communications department, the final, official and accurate 2011 PGA Tour Driving Distance average: 290.9.

The 2010 driving distance average of 287.3 followed 2009's 287.9 and 2008's 287.3.

This is second largest season-to-season jump since the tour began tracking driving distance averages in 1980. (The largest increase: 6.5 yards between 2002 and 2003).

So since 2002 when the USGA and R&A announced they were drawing a line in the sand on distance increases whether they were caused by clubs, balls, technique, climate change or white belts, we've got a 10.5 yard increase since '02 and a 20-yard increase since 1998.

Is this significant? The "Statement of Principles" key lines:

The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.

The R&A and the USGA will consider all of these factors contributing to distance on a regular basis. Should such a situation of meaningful increases in distances arise, the R&A and the USGA would feel it immediately necessary to seek ways of protecting the game.

So what is the meaning of significant in this mindless distance chase?

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Reader Comments (33)

Well, new rules and decisions are here...........and no news about balls or clubs limitations. Another lost opportunity
10.26.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMoi
Ops the horse has long since bolted before our Lords & Masters woke up the distance issue.

I suppose there is much truth in the old saying ‘You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’ seems to spring to mind when we mention the R&A.

20 yards or even 10 yards DO have an effect upon our older courses, distance in the AIDS virus to golf, yet we mainly though technology and poor golf course architecture promote the infection not just to spread over one course but over all our courses.

In the old days correctly placed hazards would test the persistence of the long hitters. Forcing the Golfer to play/navigate the course and its design rather than taking to the easy aerial game, requiring more strategy in the golfer’s game – a simple but original part at the heart of the old game. Also removing rear bunkers to a Green will allow the long shot to continue its destiny. As in past days a poor shot would not be rewarded by being stopped by a shallow bunker allowing easy recovery.

The lack of clarity by the R&A on this one subject alone out of many condemns them IMHO to proving their continued existence as our Governing Body. At least with a Parliament we would have the right to vote them out of office.

Perhaps when St Andrews Links Trust apply for planning permission to demolish The R&A Clubhouse behind the 1st on TOC due to having increase the length of the 1st Hole, the point might just by then have sunk into our sleeping beauties at The R&A. Although, I will not be holding my breath over this one.

Ban white belts. Or allow them only on recreational players.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEast End Golfer
Saw an interesting video recently where a big hitter was comparing persimmon drivers to today's latest hollow toasters, the kicker was that they had mint condition balata balls. Persimmon kept up with today's technology and even produced the longest drive. Confirming, once again, what everyone already knows, it is the ball.
Their insight into the obvious is astounding!
There are easy fixes to combat power/distance. For starters, try growing the rough longer. An increase in distance usually comes with a loss of accuracy. Growing the rough to 4+ inches or more will make inaccurate shots off the tee more penalizing....the way it should be. Unfortunately, making the game tougher for pros isn't in the best interests of the PGA Tour as making biridies and eagles is what the crowds want (in their opinion). Who wants to pay $75/day to see pros hacking it out of the cabbage and making bogey or worse when they can do that playing with their friends?
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterWildBill
Obviously we should go back to Bobby Jones era equipment. Persimmon, hickory, etc.

Also, it should be mandatory that all players be fat, out of shape, as not flexible as possible....oh, and smoke and drink heavily.


Where's the USGA and R&A on this? They should be promulgating these rules....on the double.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered Commentereric_b
Wild Bill-who wants to spend all day looking for golf balls?
10.27.2011 | Unregistered Commenterchico
Fix the ball--
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterT Money
Is this the reason why todays game is in such a mess - thanks to opinions like Eric_b

"Obviously we should go back to Bobby Jones era equipment. Persimmon, hickory, etc.

Also, it should be mandatory that all players be fat, out of shape, as not flexible as possible....oh, and smoke and drink heavily.


Where's the USGA and R&A on this? They should be promulgating these rules....on the double."

or is he just joking as he has no answere to the problem - Eric_b all I can say is to repeat the opinion of others - BALLS, Sir its all in the balls.!
Hold up...wait a minute. It wouldn't be fair to our friends in Asia unless we counted the stats from the tourney there next month. Two uphill, against the wind measuring holes just might do the trick. The stats release was just an oversight from Ty, who was busy at the R&D facility in Mesquite, NV.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNRH
Yet another dumb and baseless missive from eric b.

No, Eric. Nobody is suggesting that we go back to hickory, persimmon and balata. Nobody. You made that up. And, let's face it; it was stupid on your part to make that up, because in fact the reason that no 'rollback' proponents are proposign such a thing is that our interest is in making golf more accessible, less expensive and less dependent on technology. And in fact, hickory and persimmon and balata were all materials that were expensive, uneven in quality and easily breakable/cuttable.

So your suggestion is a perfectly idiotic strawman of an argument. Naturally, you've compounded the error by suggesting that perhaps "fitness" is also part of the distance gains of recent years, which does mostly nothing to explain JB Holmes' eye-popping distances, or how a Hale Irwin has gotten longer, distance-wise, in his mid-sxties.

And the agronomy argument is a non-starter. Combatting distance with tricks in golf course setups produces, as we know very well, boring golf, far removed from the architects' intent. Fixing golf ball distance by growing longer rough is like policing excessive speed on the roads by removing guardrails and oiling road surfaces.

As Geoff suggests, the one fallback argument that guys like you had, used to be that "Driving distance has leveled off! The rollbackers and Luddites won!" We knew that argument wouldn't last. And it hasn't. Driving distance, with unchecked technology was bound to increase. And it has. You've lost every argument there is, against sensible retooling of golf ball specifications.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
The joint statement of principles has been a joke ever since it was issued because the very next year, 2003 there was a significant increase in distance. The ruling bodies cannot claim ignorance or being "asleep at the wheel" they are clearly not living up to their word. I can only hope that members of the media will chastise R&A and USGA for lying to the public.

@Ericb That argument makes no sense. Did you read the statement of principles?

@Wildbill Unfortunately many courses are taking your advice and consequently ruining the strategic intents of their courses. I have a better idea for you Wildbill to really punish those wayward drives, create a moat surrounding the fairways ;)
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan McAllister
I don't see what the big deal is. Some those old golf courses that Geoff likes might become obsolete and require remodeling. But look at the bright side! All of these course remodels will create jobs. Both public and private courses will spend millions and millions of dollars to rebuild tees, buy property to extend holes,reposition bunkers, and extend driving ranges. Municipal and public courses can just raise green fees to pay for the construction, because we know that most golfers are rich guys that work for corporations. These remodeling projects will create shovel-ready jobs across the country. Think of multiplier effect of these new jobs - it isn't theory, it's science!

So now, all we need to do is wait for those private course golfer-fat cat members to stop "hoarding" their cash and start spending it on course remodels. I say we get the Open Doctor started on his plans to make Merion 8,000 yards in time for next year's Open. Hell, maybe he can re-route the entire course! More doglegs, more rough, pinch the fairways at 330 yards, and include at least three 650 yard par fives. Punish those wayward drives. No more easy birdies for those while belt wearing flatbellies!

Simply assess those rich Merion members about 250K each, and watch the jobs proliferate in the Philadelphia area. I'm guessing unemployment there drops significantly. It's a win-win.

The USGA is going to save our economy, you just wait and see.

John Maynard Acushnet
10.27.2011 | Unregistered Commenterjw

That is one out of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
Roll back the ball. Make it go sideways. Ban the long putter. Get rid of carts. Grow the rough, no wait that would produce BORING golf! Yes roll back the ball, make it go sideways into the rough! No way that would produce BORING golf! Golf is boring. 99% of the golfers time on the course is sitting walking adjusting ones shirt because someone has a nervous tick, rolling back the ball won't happen, but it would be nice if fairways did not run 12 on the stimpmeter. And really this jump in distance this year could be the effect of the weather, doubt the 2010 or 2009 ball goes further than 2011 model. Now will you be in favor of limiting shaft technology? Because this will contribute to distance gains in the years to come more so than the ball, so roll back ball but the shaft will keep up the distance gains. still every course that you hold dear is still relevant to 99% of golfers in the world for the forseeable future, think on the sunny side of the street.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterA3
The answer is get back to the fairway bunkers, kill the aerial game and let the real fun of navigating the hazards on the course, not take British or American Airways and fly over some of the greatest courses ever made. If your game is to avoid the hazards, then go and find another game because mate you do not understand the very basics of Golf.

The aerial game kills golf, yet links courses in windy conditions kill the aerial game, so more wind and links courses please.

There is nothing as boring as playing with someone who rides and plays the aerial game, you only see him at the Tees or Greens, generally well behind you and so helping the round take well over 6 hours.

@Chico - hit it in the fairway and you won't have that problem.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterWildBill
Your sarcasm detector must be running low on batteries.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered Commenterjw
@A3 All I have to say to all of your completely irrelevant points is; where does it end?
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan McAllister
Let's break down this intersting and technically true statement:

"...every course that you hold dear is still relevant to 99% of golfers in the world for the forseeable future..."

That is true. We are indeed talking about the the elite competitive players. Maybe not 1%, but close. I'll stipulate to 1%. It's a nice number. No loaded meanings, right?

Anyway, in golf, that 1% is rather important. They are the most visible players in the game. They are the focus of all of the game's attention, the creators of golf's competitive history, and the measuring stick of classic course design. Or at least they used to be. Until they began to require 7,600+ yard courses.

"The 1%" might sound small and irrelevant to some people, but it really isn't. Championship golf is one of the most visilbe parts of the game. We cannot ignore or work-around that 1%.

It is no-brainer easy: we can easily roll back golf balls, and instead of making classic golf course designs relevant for 99% of the game of golf, we can make it relevant to 100% of the game of golf. We can INCLUDE that all-important 1%.

We can always move tees forward. We cannot always move tees backwards. And we should not trick things up with hyper-fast greens (you lose lots of hole positions) or narrowed fairways and heavy rough (that spoils varying options for play) or phony hazards like added punitive bunkering or trees to prop up scoring.

There's no good reason for the USGA not to meaningfully regulate galf balls. If people want to play with bandit balls, they can go ahead and manufacture them. The USGA won't stop them. The only reason not to meaningfully regulate golf balls is the fear of litigation. And the only thing that could justify such litigation is a small number of manufacturers' (and maybe just one) wishing to maintain market-share in the ball manufacturing business. A manufacturer whose CEO insists that golf is an "aspirational game." Presumably meaning that the golf equipment-buying public needs to have ever-better performing tools or else the game loses interest for them. A psychological link that is, stretching through mass psychology to Wall Street, via golf ball patents.

Ian McAllister asked a wonderfully simple question that deserves an answer: "Where does it all end?"
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
jw, bingo on the sarcasm detector! Guys, don't take eric_b so seriously, he certainly doesn't take himself seriously!

And jw, by the way, you can't accuse the "fat cats" in Banktown USA (otherwise known as Charlotte NC) of hoarding their cash...every club of note in that town has undergone a top-to-bottom reno in the last few years! Well, not so much Quail, but the changes they are a comin'...!!!
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterDel the Funk
@Chuck Bravo!
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan McAllister
@Chuck and every other moron who doesn't get it....I would try to explain sarcasm and how I was trying to be senselessly idiotic to show just how stupid this whole debate is, but I think you're all just a little to high on yourselves to listen.

Point is: who cares? If this kind of useless nonsense affects your enjoyment of the game, you probably don't enjoy golf that much to begin with.

Golf is still fun, still challenging, still entertaining....etc. etc. etc. This type of debate is stupid. And if you'd like to point out how I lose the argument by using big words or quoting tradition or any other useless nonsense, you're just proving my point.

You're all morons. Go hit the links. Enjoy the game. Cause to be frank, we're not debating anything here....we're just a pack of trolls.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered Commentereric_b
Eric_b the voice of moderation. You are right it’s not a debate just opinions being conveyed to others interested in the Royal & Ancient Game of Golf. The game that requires the player to walk and think his way around a golf course.

Morons perhaps but I have only one wife, how many can I have if I really become a Moron? As for Trolls, no they are not found in Scotland but may live just over the border in NE England. A Troll I am told is a follower of technology to combat his poor grasp of the game of golf as a result of his poor skill levels.

"Long driving is not a crime--it is a virtue and is more frequently by skill and grace of motion than by mere force. Long drivers should be rewarded, and as a general rule they should have greater latitude, and not less, than short drivers." ALISTER MACKENZIE

"Long drives destroy the golf course architecture, they are vile and testosterone based acts of aggression. Long drivers should indeed be rewarded by well-placed hazards in their LZ and potential run off zones as a general rule. Designers of merit should understand the destructive nature of long driving and provide more obstacles while encouraging the shorter drivers as they take the challenge to navigate the design laid out by the Designer". MELVYN HUNTER MORROW
My idea is for the professionals to be mandated to use an ultra high spin ball and also that all clubs tested by Iron Byron must exceed a certain level of RPMs of spin that they impart to the ball. This would bring more sideways movement into play with the driver and mean that flighting the ball in windy conditions would become a part of the game again.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan
I urge individuals who care about the game to send a letter or an email to the ruling bodies protesting the distance explosion and its effects on classic courses. I would also urge individuals to restore their love for the game by playing a round of hickory golf and of course to always walk not ride.
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan McAllister
There's nothing wrong with long drives in amateurs because not everybody can do it. The problem is when 80% of the pros just fly the fairway bunkers that once were real hazards
10.27.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMoi
During the past few years more and more of the younger golfers coming along where I golf routinely drive the ball and hit other clubs much further than our 6500 yd championship layout was designed to accommodate. It's dispiriting playing with them; they can hit it to spots that remove any challenge from negotiating the route from tee to green. It's like I'm playing chess and they're playing checkers. I hit a perfectly placed drive that sets up the best line to the green for a 5 iron, but they have hit it 40 to 80 yards further and now can hit a wedge or 9 iron. There is no sense of strategic difficulty, and only one tactic: bash it. At least our courses are visually deceptive on the approach and on the putting surfaces; it keeps them coming back. And, just for the record, I'm hitting it farther than I used to, too. I think we'd all be having more fun if the best golfers in the world averaged 270 off the tee instead of 290; more fun watching them play, and more fun watching each other play.
10.28.2011 | Unregistered CommenterF. X. Flinn
It strikes me as incredibly obvious that the USGA/R&A may define "significant" differently than you.

And it's not just the golf ball. The average swing speed on the PGA Tour is over 10 MPH faster now than it was 20 years ago. With any ball that's going to amount to a significant increase in distance.

Also, I'm glad the "eric_b" who posts spells his name with a "c."
10.29.2011 | Unregistered CommenterErik J. Barzeski
Distance is what makes the game exciting, and fun. The trend will continue as it always has, increasing ever so slightly over time. You don't hit driver on every hole, anyway. By 2050, the average Pro tour drive should be around 310 yd. Most pros can hit it that far already on any given day. Bubba does not win every time. There's much more to the game.
09.3.2012 | Unregistered Commenterhd4ms
In order to round out this debate, it would be instructive for a few tournament sponsors - say, Augusta National, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer - to dictate a reduced distance ball at their tournaments. Do a "trial run" for a year and let us all see how the best players fare, and whether the quality of golf changes.

While they are at it, they could also dictate drivers with a maximum size of 280 or 300 cc. I believe that we should fully test the skill level of elite golfers!

For full disclosure, I believe in bifurcation. I also enjoy hickory golf on occasions. A more difficult game on shorter courses would make walking more relevant for more players - a good benefit for us all.
11.25.2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Vogelsang

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