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John Solheim Wants Everyone To Have Three Balls, And Other Amazing Revelations

...or the option to play one of three golf Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson on the latest bizarro proposal from the PING folks hoping to stave off the governing bodies from distance-related regulatory moves. 

Solheim's proposal, which he has presented to manufacturers and sent to golf's ruling bodies, calls for changing from just one overall distance standard for all balls to a "ball distance rating," or BDR, system that would include three types of balls. The three balls in Solheim's proposal include one that is the same as today's current standard, a second ball that would be as much as 30 yards longer and a third ball that would produce distances 30 yards shorter than current balls. Courses, tournaments, tours and even individual players could choose their ball based on the course they're playing or the skill level of the players in the event. Solheim equated the BDR system to varying tee boxes.

Isn't this why we already have the varying sets of tees? So everyone can play the same ball?

He envisioned a system which even might allow opportunities for average golfers playing their home course to have slower swingers using the longer-distance-standard ball while faster swingers would play the shorter-distance-standard ball with both players teeing off from the same marker. To make this work from a competitive standpoint Solheim suggested the handicap system incorporate a "ball rating" element. (Read the full proposal here) 

Are you eyes still open?

Solheim believes his BDR proposal is a better alternative than some recent decisions made in response to the distance question. He writes in his proposal, "Unfortunately, over the past dozen or so years, many actions taken in response to that challenge have often been short sighted, costly and/or controversial--such as altering some of golf's most revered courses and adopting restrictive golf club rules."  

Interesting that he would list altering courses before the driving force behind the proposal: restrictive club rules. Is a manufacturer actually acknowledging the ridiculousness of changing architecture to accomodate distance advances?

Speaking of different tone, check out what Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein had to say. 

"Under the guidance of the [Joint] Statement of Principles, the regulatory bodies have taken the necessary steps to insure the ongoing balance between skill and technology," said Uihlein.

I miss the old bite, Wally! Go on...

"We continue to believe that it is the responsibility of the regulatory bodies to make and monitor the rules of golf, and the responsibility of manufacturers remains to provide input and comment upon proposed rule changes. We consider the minor increase in driving distance on the U.S. PGA Tour for 2011 part of the normal movement (up and down) of that statistical category since 2004. We would be surprised if the ruling bodies considered it significant or appropriate for action under the Statement of Principles."

Ah yes the old significant word makes its first appearance. The USGA's Dick Rugge shot down the proposal, albeit nicely.  

"While his proposed method--multiple levels of equipment rules--is contrary to the tradition of the Rules of Golf, we welcome John's sincere efforts to discuss the topic."

Here's the real meat in the story from Solheim:

"What scares me is that I think there's going to be some people who are going to try to shorten the ball, and if the average player can't keep playing the current ball, that's going to be a difficulty," he said. "I think this proposal takes care of both the elite player and the average golfer, but the people who will benefit more from it are the masses."

So (A) he's admitting that distance advancements haven't been great for the professional game and (B) seems to be suggesting he is anticipating a ball rollback by the governing bodies. 

The story contains yet another revelation. You may recall that in the past, manufacturers have suggested it was a real burden to create balls that didn't fly as far. Not anymore! 

Technologically speaking, it would not be difficult to achieve the kind of golf balls being talked about. "Making a shorter ball is not all that difficult, and it would be fairly easy to achieve another 20 to 30 yards without much trouble if there were no initial velocity restriction," said John Rae, vice president of research and development for Cleveland/Srixon.

And yet another stunning, but accurate comment from Rae:

"A slightly smaller, slightly heavier ball would be significantly better aerodynamically and go farther. That said, I don't know of anyone not entering the game or leaving the game because they're not hitting the ball far enough. From an everyday golfer standpoint this may be addressing a problem that isn't really a problem."  

Remember the good ole days when more distance was the answer to all of our prayers?

It's not a stretch to suggest that ball manufacturers might not be enthusiastic about Solheim's idea. Not only would they be forced to develop the technology for a shorter ball, but they likely would be forced to market balls on three distance levels. Finally retailers, with shelves already flooded with a sea of different ball models, would find themselves needing to stock three types of each model--something not likely welcomed. 

There's another element to Solheim's proposal (read the entire draft here) which I will address later, but because I made the mistake of upgrading to Apple's not-ready-for-primetime Lion operating system, I'll be spending the next few hours at the Genius Bar.

Ah, technology...

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Reader Comments (25)

There's a crack in the dyke - yippee! If the rules makers react quickly we could have lift, I mean roll back.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
Considering PING have no vested interested in the ball market and PING's history of litigation with the USGA over rules governing club-making, Solheim's ideas are not surprising.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterReg
The longer ball will create a massive safety issue for existing courses - they have to recognize this problem.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan Andrew
Typical of today's world, we seek not equal rights, but equal results. The satisfaction in the game is not from distance, but from overcoming all those crazy thoughts in your head and scoring better than normal or defeating your opponent in a match.

Ian is correct, some 20 handicapper swinging away and hitting the ball 70 yards off line? Pity the poor property values when their yard is full of balls.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn S.
we have this weeks winner for "Dumbest idea " already!
12.19.2011 | Unregistered Commenterchicago pt
The more I mull this over the more frustrated I am with manufactuers
How the hell am I going to design holes when there can be a 60 yard variance in a single player?

Let's wake up and adress the decline in participation....

Shorter ball flight = less land = lower costs = lower price point = more participation
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan Andrew
Almost as ingenious as this:
The wiki article also has a Patent Office drawing for the first two-piece golf ball, from the first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica:
This idea is even dumber than the 8" hole idea. If the ball goes too far for the pros, let the PGA Tour and the European Tour make their own ball rule. Let the rest of us who don't hit the ball 300 yards keep the ball we have.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoey
Oops. "Wound" golf ball. Jeebus.
My head hurts after reading that. The wife was on the verge of calling a doctor for me.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterOld Hornet
Again, there should be bifurcation. Most sports have bifurcation between the amateur and professional level. Why? Because they don't play like we do. Seriously, it's not a bad word, it's time to accept it
12.19.2011 | Unregistered Commenterelf
Personally, I was surprised when John Solheim and Ping DIDN'T sue the USGA, over the groove rule. That rule was a lot harder to explain, was less intuitive, and made less sense than any ball rollback. The groove rule injured more interests, of more manufacturers, than any ball rollback would.

Now that the groove rule has gone down with no USGA-challenging litigation, it seems to me that Acushnet would be in a pretty crappy place if they alone sued to fight a ball rollback, with Callaway, Srixon and Bridgestone all sitting on the sidelines saying that sure, they would be able to conform to a new rule.

I've never really believed much in the feared threat of Titleist suing the USGA if a ball rollback were imposed. I've always thought it a battle that the USGA ought to embrace, and that it would win, and a victory would be one of the best things to happen to the USGA in years.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
I'm sure that the data is in from the so called 'Bonanza' that the new groove rule was supposed to bring for the manf's. From what i've been led to believe, there was a distinct lack of 'Bonanza'. I'm sure this doesn't escape John and the knowledge that club changes will bring exactly slim to none increase in sales, but cost a ton in changing materials, construction and assembly.

When you have to knock down a hornets nest - best to kock it down in your neighbours yard....
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommentermP
HEY !!!
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterOld Hornet
For once I'm going to be ahead of the curve and invest in golf helmets.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Golfer
I have to believe this is a step forward for a ball roll back, distance control, etc.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMRP
It cannot be strictly a distance rollback. There must (should) also be a limit to the "sidespin reducing" properties of the ball. If nothing is being done to the equipment to remove those effects, then that is the helper - you shouldn't get the club AND the ball as crutches.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterGIAFF
Ban the long putter first, change the ball the next day, for the pros only, if you shorten my ball, I quit the game. It takes too long and costs too much to hit 220 yds off the tee. I will get less satisfaction and will drink even more.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterA3
Too complicated. Just bifurcate.
12.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteven T.
suitable for you
12.20.2011 | Unregistered Commentercheap ugg boots
Hmmm....have to admit it's an interesting proposal....never thought of ADDING distance. But after thinking about it...Ian Andrew is correct. To get more participation golf needs to be "scaled down" for the masses. I see this as a teacher in Europe where golf is a new sport relatively speaking.

Some of the "Championship Courses" here are HARD...even for me. Can't imagine having to learn the game in this era where carrying the ball at least 220yds is a mandatory requirement...add to that the nasty un-cleared trees/brush that swallow any ball that dares to roll a foot into the treeline.

I'm all for bifurcation in the pro game...they can do things ballistic-ally with a ball that even scratch golfers can only dream about. So I say let the tournament director of each PGA Tour event mandate a tournament ball that every player uses.

Let's see em play with Pinnacles on 8000 yards courses with forced carries up the wazoo, but plenty of room as well...because let's face it...that's what the casual golf fan likes to see. Then, the next week, go to a 3-piece Balata ball at a course like Colonial or Harbour Town. Those guys are good...they can play with anything....let em learn to play a different style of golf week in/week out and IMO we'll start seeing the best players rising to the top.

The ones who will benefit will be the smart players who use sound course management and apply all their years of experience to get whatever ball they are using that week around 18 holes as best they can....rather than the current "new style" of bash it/find it/gouge-it/hope for a one putt/repeat.

It will never happen...but one can only hope for the best and plan for the worst.
12.20.2011 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
To the powers that be:

Golf is hard. That's ok - it's part of what makes the game great. While I understand your intentions are noble, please don't add to the complexity of regulations. One ball, one rule. Grab said ball, play it as it lies and hole out in the fewest number of strokes.

Thank you in advance for your understanding.

A Golfer
12.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterPJ
Why would any manufacturer choose to produce a ball that goes 30 yards shorter? Nobody will buy it. The only reason I could see them doing so is small batch production for their tour players.

Personally I don't see a big issue with a 30 yards longer ball. Guys that think they hit it 270 really only hit it about 215, another 30 yards isn't going to make a big difference.

It is 30 yards, not 30%, right?
12.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterETON14
Anything other than one shorter, more crooked ball is a really really really bad idea.

Shorter courses for everyone. Cuts costs. Modern Real Estate Cartball Courses can all sell maybe 36 more lots, too. Good for everyone.
12.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterGolfFan
I am willing to bet that the original multi-color Ping golf balls are 30 yards shorter than the modern balls. Those balls went nowhere when they were being made.
12.23.2011 | Unregistered Commentercc-rider

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