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Sunday
Nov192017

USGA's Davis: Distance Explosion Impact Has Been "Horrible"

In what's increasingly smelling, sounding and feeling like a buildup to a serious product-driven discussion about how to deal with the distance chase, the Wall Street Journal's Brian Costa talks to several about where we are headed.

The Saturday WSJ piece (thanks reader JB) is titled "Golf Weighs Big Shift To Reduced-Distance Golf Balls" and says golf's governing bodies are discussing "different balls for different levels of the game."

This is similar to something the USGA's Mike Davis floated in March and now Costa reports:

“I don’t care how far Tiger Woods hits it,” Davis said. “The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game.”

For those of you more recent readers, you may not know it, but these may be the strongest comments yet from a governing body figure related to the distance explosion's impact.

The concept Davis is floating would leave it to other groups, from the PGA Tour all the way down to private clubs, to decide which category of balls is permitted on any given course. It could also create new options on the lower end of the sport.

“What if we said to get more little kids into the game, we’re going to come up with a conforming golf ball that’s the size of a tennis ball, to help them hit it up in the air?” Davis said. “We are really trying to think outside the box.”

One question to be answered is which groups would mandate the use of reduced-distance balls. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan declined to comment. Until someone requires golfers to use something other than the best-performing balls they can find, manufacturers will have little reason to bring reduced-distance balls to market.

Unless of course their favorite pros are playing them to play courses as they were meant to be played.

But as Davis notes, there are potential options to that also help kids, beginners or seniors potentially enjoy the game more as part of this solution.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

Every party involved has some incentive not to force the issue. If the governing bodies tried to mandate a more restrictive ball for all golfers, they would face a massive fight from equipment companies. Those companies thrive by making a hard game easier, not harder. The PGA Tour relies on eye-popping distance numbers to highlight the skill and athleticism of its stars, which isn’t always apparent to the naked eye.

Brian Mahoney, head of the New York-based Metropolitan Golf Association, said elite amateur events like the ones his group organizes would be receptive to a reduced-distance ball. But for the idea to be more than an option presented by the governing bodies, some influential club would need to be the first to adopt it.

Costa floats the concept of a Masters ball and Fred Ridley's recent statement that they would prefer not to go that route. Which is why the mandate to play such a ball will come from a classic that is dealing with safety issues and other questions about its integrity brought on by the distance chase.

As to the timing of this, the comments of Davis follow March's first mention of variable distance balls, Martin Slumbers bringing up the distance "movements" at The Open, Tiger's pointed comments to Coach Geno and Bridgestone's CEO endorsing a tournament ball.

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Reader Comments (46)

Distance is not an issue for 99% of the golfers out there. We need more distance, not less. Bifurcate the ball
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterSari
Sari
Perhaps, but that’s after every course extended or got built at 6900-7000 yards. Not a great use of resources.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
Somewhere Frank Hannigan is saying, no kidding Mike!
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterOB
“The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. All it’s doing is increasing the cost of the game.”


How so? Please quantify.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBeef
@Don - 99+ percent of the golf courses in the world aren't adding hundreds of yards of length to make them longer. It's a nice bit of hyperbole that's not rooted in any bit of truth.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterOWGR Fan
Of course the guy who is setting up championship courses wants to make his job easier. Everyone that wants to make their job easier wants reduced distance (shorter hitters, older players, golf course supers, etc). The unintended impact of reducing distance would be even less public interest in the pro game, driving ratings down even further. Being able to use the same equipment as your players drives a lot of the interest in golf. If this ever was adopted it would be a death knell for TV ratings and golf ball manufacturers.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay
I must be playing the wrong courses, because here in Southern California I don't see a lot of changes made to existing courses...yes, new tees are installed for the pros, or placed in silly places, but I doubt they cost that much to build.

I volunteered Riviera and LACC this summer...they haven't bought an extra yard of land...they've added some tees, but that's about it. Of course, the first hole is really a par 4 now...but it has been for years. As for LACC, a couple of silly tee boxes like on the iconic #11 making it play a ridiculous 250 yards.

But the courses I play don't seem to have any issues...the vast majority of the players I see are playing the blue/white tees...and the ones playing the blacks mostly look like they can't break 100.

Just give pros and scratch amateur events a different ball...how hard is that?
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterManku
OW
Everything is 7000 or + now. That’s the same as the 1980s?
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
"Being able to use the same equipment as your players drives a lot of the interest in golf. If this ever was adopted it would be a death knell for TV ratings and golf ball manufacturers."

You have to be pretty clueless to believe typical golfers have access to the same equipment as the pros.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBoomer
As in everything being built now is 7,000 +. These aren’t tour stops either.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
@Don - I've played over 150+ rounds (public & private) in the area I live over the last 4-5 years over 50-60 courses and not one course has added new tees to lengthen their course due to equipment. Most older courses aren't 7000+ yards. For most golfers anything over 6200-6400 yards is still too long for them. Even with todays equipment.

That said there are many older courses before the equipment explosion were over 7000 yards. The course (Colonial in Memphis) Al Geiberger shot 59 at played 7200 yards in the 1970's. So everything today is not 7000+ yards. Where are all of these courses that are spending all of this money to play longer? Of course the answer is nowhere. However that doesn't fit the narrative that the golf sky is falling crowd wants to believe.

At one time TOC in St. Andrews was around 4500 yards. Golf has somehow survived since. People such as yourself and others here need to quit conflating that because some "championship or well known courses" have added length that most courses have. That's patently untrue and you know it. Why? They can't afford it. Again you know that. In case I'm incorrect please provide me with multiple examples of every day courses that are adding length.

Has golf become to easy for you? Unlikely. For all of the equipment advances that benefit the tour players most every week there are still 70-80 players that play poorly, shoot over par and miss the cut. How does that happen? Isn't golf too easy now? Doesn't everybody hit it 330+ on the fly with a driver and 190+ with 7 irons that are 8-10 degrees stronger lofted than 25 years ago and makes every putt on perfect greens. That's what some here want others to believe. Not buying it.

Regardless of the total length of a course (which by the way is the most irrelevant number in golf) golf is still difficult. Even at tour level. Even with todays equipment. Some courses are built to a total length that nobody will ever play. It's simply a marketing exercise by the developer that the GCA needs to follow. I'm sure that comes as a shock to you.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterOWGR Fan
@Boomer - I can turn it right around. You have to be pretty clueless to think the golf balls tour* players use are different than what the public has access to. The balls that they use are exactly the same as the balls produced for the general public. They’re not produced in some secret lab, lol. I’ve swiped a sleeve or 2 of TP5 balls from tour pros and there is no difference whatsoever.
Sure, drivers/irons/wedges/shafts may have some additional tweaks, but if you go to the right club maker you can get exactly what they use. That’s why GolfWRX is as popular as it is so you can find out tour player equipment specs down to the milligram.
11.19.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay
Course length contributes to slow play.
The pros playing a 8000 yard course superimposed on a 6200 yard normal mens tees walk a hundred yards back to their tee. (On a decently designed walking course the mens tees are close to the previous green.)
Every hole.
That's 1800 yards walking = 20 minutes?
O
Where I live in the last 20 years courses were built longer than in the past and some have been lengthened. It’s marketing as you say but in the sense that they want to ba a place to accommodate the best in the area.

Any decent athlete into their 50s can swing 100 mph. There are a lot of these guys although they are well above avg. They play courses that are 6600 to 6800 because they truly need to or it would be all wedges. They practically shoot the same scores they used to. With a rolled back ball they could play 6300-6600 and be just as satisfied. (Moreso if the ball curved and spun IMO). That would be a lot less course to maintain and lead to quicker rounds and more walking. Safer too. I’d say the ball goes unnecessarily far instead of too far. It’s not like we can’t afford the extra space.

I’ll think about it more tho. You’re probably right.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterDon
Davis/USGA prepping us for "The Official Competitive Ball"? Pick your favorite idiom:
-- Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted
-- Installing smoke alarms after the fire
-- A day late and a dollar short
-- Better late than never

Afraid they will go with "specs" rather they picking 1 brand's product -- MLB uses Rawlings baseball and NBA uses Spaulding I suspect they won't have the testicular fortitude to dial-back much, if at all -- will settle for stopping further escalation.

Q.'s -- European Tour? The Open Championship? LPGA? USGA events? Juniors?
11.20.2017 | Unregistered Commenterputmedownforasix
The ball issue is like an expensive restaurant where the chef will say presentation is as important as taste. But if you're eating at Joe's Diner, you couldn't care care less as long as it tastes good. It's an awful stew of ratings, perception related to sales, ego, architecture, maintenance and participation. I'm not in the camp for a different ball for different skill levels. How can golf ever be called the same game? Rein it in and and anybody that feels disadvantaged, can move up to the next set of tees.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
@Sari

Distance affects 100% of golfers and those interested in golf. It is translated through all forms of media to the point that distance today defines the game when in the past it was the hazards and the skill of the golfer in their quest to cleverly avoid them.

Distance is reflected in modern course designs and the equipment irrespective of the 99% you mentioned. It most certainly defines the modern game, just listen to those having a drink after a round.

I feel (my opinion) it would be an error to offer different equipment/ball by giving the Pro’s a Tournament Ball – Each and every golfer should have the same ball otherwise you segregate the game and that, I believe will affect its future and the ability to pull in new blood – reason being that at a stroke you have labelled the 99%, second rate while elevating the elite even higher. We need to at least keep them together in the sense that father and son can play a Tournament course to see how far they would be behind their heroes. I did this with my father on TOC, which was a great thrill as I stopped counting shots in favour of trying to understand the shots of my heroes. My first lesson in introducing me to golf course design (or should I say golf orienteering via design).

Separate equipment/ball will divide the game and I believe result in less new players with the financial consequences that will bring to ALL sectors of Golf (In my humble opinion).
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Morris
I want to see pros have to hit drivers, on the traditional, classic courses. Bifurcate.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterWmiller
It isn't just longer though that makes it more expensive. Remember why most people aren't pros? Cause they can't hit it straight? Well guess what the means when the ball can go if you get even a bit of it(with the toaster-sized heads, you're not missing). Course designers need more space between holes to account for the fact the ball may not go further down the fairway, but wherever Joe Schmo is hitting it, it's traveling a lot farther than it would have 30 years ago.

You simply need more land to build a course today. And everything that comes from that leads to one thing: it's more expensive to play.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPat(another one)
OMG...after 30+ years the USGA finally recognizes the disservice their negligence did to golf. No organization in golf has ever been guilty of losing the plot to this extent and wasting so many resources. I would hate to see two balls. I think the tees handle the relative distance issue quite well. I just want to see the manufacturers silenced. Golf iscrules, not profit, based.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Drayson
D. mac +1
I do am not a fan of bifurcation and would favor more stringent limits on how much the ball's spin can be reduced and how far the ball can travel when struck at some arbitrary standard, say 120 to 130 mph.
Rollback will never happen. Too much money to be made in equipment, selling dreams to the average hacker.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBud
A) Didn't the USGA allow this to happen; and
B) Didn't they release a joint study with the R&A in February of 2017 that basically said distanced is capped and has only had immaterial gains in the last 13 years?

What gives?

Should someone else probably run this...maybe the TOUR?
@Kentucky Blue Grass

You mean “We here highly resolve that these old dead guys shall not have died in vain, that this game of golf, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of golf, by the golfers, for the golfers, shall not perish from the earth.”

Or is that just too much freedom?
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Morris
I love how Geoff takes this as evidence of a sure roll-back. Wishful thinking.

I'm with OWGR and think he's made good points here.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterErik J. Barzeski
"The PGA Tour relies on eye-popping distance numbers to highlight the skill and athleticism of its stars, which isn’t always apparent to the naked eye."

Funny, that is exactly what drove me from watching the PGA Tour.
Once I could no longer relate, I lost interest in watching them play.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered Commenterian andrew
If the ball is going too far then why are many clubs adding forward/"advantage tees" and encouraging their players to play from the appropriate teeing grounds? I do not see 8,000 yards courses for the 'average player." sorry Jack. Wasting resources . . where? No one is building anyway! 99% of us are not good players.
Use the "B-word" And stop the madness. The best are the best for many reasons. The rest of us are not.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeaceFrog
If the ball is going too far then why are many clubs adding forward/"advantage tees" and encouraging their players to play from the appropriate teeing grounds? I do not see 8,000 yards courses for the 'average player." sorry Jack. Wasting resources . . where? No one is building anyway! 99% of us are not good players.
Use the "B-word" And stop the madness. The best are the best for many reasons. The rest of us are not.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeaceFrog
Ian, so you don't watch any pro sports at all, because you "can't relate"?

We watch sports because people do things we cannot do. In golf, we get to see pros face the same kinds of challenges we face (we'll likely never know what it's like to throw against an NFL defense in a nickel formation with the game on the line).

If we could "relate" to what PGA Tour players did, I think viewership would sink to near zero. If I could "relate" to it, why would I watch it if I could just visit any golf course and see "relatable" play live and in person?
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterErik J. Barzeski
Golf already has bifurcation with the grooves. It also has it with agronomy. I went to Phoenix CC last week and will never play a course with greens, fairways and first cut at the heights they used. I watched Couples shoot an effortless 62 and Kelly shoot 65. The course was listed around 6700 yards but it played much shorter. The engineered balls of today allow everyone at a higher skill level to play without fear. It also reduces the range of skills needed if you have enough club head speed. The pro ball should have more spin so a top player has to respect the risk of a shot not dismiss it.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterMunihack
@OWGR Fan

Interesting post - very informative but you are only half right – in the case of the recent past, but you are wrong if you look back further to the days of Holt and MacKenzie, even Braid. Much of their money came from extending older courses to comply to the new ball, even though the gutty in one form or another was still around. Courses were extended thanks to the new ball in 1896, however many of the old courses through the UK have closed – just look at that wonderful site Golf’s Missing Links link (http://www.golfsmissinglinks.co.uk/ ) to see just how many have closed over the years (20th Century)

The flight of the ball is a major issue, it needs to be addressed, but in conjunction with a total rethink of Golf Course design (as I have mentioned in other posts). Modern Design – by that I go as far back as the 1940’s has systematically done its best to sanitise golf course of much awful things like hazards that actually test the player. Words like ‘strategic’ have been used to replace penal, yet this too has been further watered down to the point that modern design (unless based upon the Askernish Model) have lost their deterrent , all in the crusade for that pot of golf at the end of the round ‘Low score’.

The modern age of design depends much upon pampering the elite, everything is geared for their game and to hell with the rest, yet it’s the rest who in the end have to pay in not just money terms.

To focus on ballroll back is positive, because it will opens the debate on golf, which will include the distance the ball travels, question modern design and hopefully demonstrate that the game should again challenge the golfer, instead of offering up super user friendly designs.

Clubs - certainly in the UK are looking for new Members, the numbers have fallen greatly in the last decade and courses are starting to close, being replaced by the likes of Trump’s Aberdeenshire that have not been sympathetic towards the land. These course are expensive and are stetting the game back to the pre 1820’s when it was a rich man’s sport.

Much of the serious issues with golf are interlinked, and have come to a head because of the lack of planning or any foresight by the clubs and worse still the Governing bodies, yet the biggest mistake is to starting issuing different balls for different venues , golf needs to be one game that unifies by the players and the game worldwide.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom Morris
Mike Davis needs to go away
Start with the 2 biggest factors contributing to the distance "dilemma"
1. Reduce size of the driver clubhead.
2. Make the ball spin more.

The longer hitters will still be the longer hitters but just won't hit it as far.
The shorter hitters will still be the shorter hitters but won't see their distance hardly impactly, if at all.
Someone has clearly kidnapped Davis.

The cat is long out of the bag on this and it's not going back. If the USGA wants to help, create a rota of championship courses that have proven to be good Open hosts and stick with them, even if eventually the winning score is double-digits under par every time. Stop going to new places that YOU insist have to be longer and longer, which just adds to the narrative of "Length is Killing the Game."

As someone said earlier, the PGA Tour wants no part of a shorter ball. They're selling the game of Bomb City. Fans love stats and driving distance is No. 1 by a mile -- they're not sitting in grandstands talking about strokes-gained putting.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn
John,

I disagree with this completely. Look no further than Jordan Spieth, the so-called "Anointed One". Nobody is sitting around talking about how far he hits the ball.

I for one, totally agree with Davis. The game is no longer interesting to watch. What is exciting about watching people hit driver wedge over and over. It is boring. The average person is not going to notice much distance lose at all, but it will be much more interesting to watch the pro's hit long irons into greens again. Do you think Hogan's shot into 18 at Merion would be so famous if he had hit a 7 iron?

Also, anyone who thinks that the ball isn't making the game more expensive is either lying to themselves, totally ignorant, or just dumb.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterStephen
Stephen, if the link between the ball and the cost is so easy, please explain it with verifiable facts.

For now, let's even let slide that you could hit a 1997 Pinnacle just as far with a modern 46" light, graphite-shafted, huge-headed driver.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterErik J. Barzeski
Erik,
And just as far off line

1) How much has golf course insurance risen vs other businesses )ski area, skating rinks, water parks etc)?
2) How many courses have made changes due to what is seen on tv, though an insignificant percentage of that courses' players actually hit it too far for the existing course?
3) what current rule would NOT allow kids to play a bigger ball while learning? Or keep the "ball goes too far" group from playing older/shorter equipment?

Anybody that doesn't see Erin Hills as the laboratory to bitch about things is missing something. 8000 yards long and five miles wide....gee, unfettered speed is rewarded, and guys hit it further??? SHOCKING!! Optimization and understanding how to launch a golf ball properly, is done better by the best players....who would have been prepared for that?

I'll give you a bucket of our limited flightt range balls, go play Merion and have fun with them!!
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterP Thomas
I honestly think this is ridiculous. I want to play with the same equipment the pros do. I'm never going to be that good, but that ability for comparison is what makes their feats so impressive. I find this very frustrating that this is their answer to a "problem" that I'm not sure needs to be fixed.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered CommenterJR Anderson
North TX Golfer: Good points. I'd also take 2 clubs out of their bags, make em play with 12.

JR Anderson: No one would stop you and you'd still shoot way higher than them...but you won't be so many yards behind them if they do this governor plate golf ball thing right .

And the OEMs would have more options to offer the grey unwashed masses...win win win.
11.20.2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohnnnycz
@ Erik
What facts can you offer that show there is NOT a relationship between the ball (distance) and cost? If you think the course setups on TV to counteract distance gains (be they from clubs, shaft length/material, ball, etc) have no impact on decisions made at the club level, you are delusional. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that more land, additional tee boxes, firmer and faster greens, etc result in a very real cost burden.

As for your 1997 Pinnacle, how did that ball react around the greens? Further, how many players used that ball whose primary focus was score? Sure, you could choose to play that ball and bomb away, but good luck holding greens and chipping/putting with any feel. Therein lies the rub...today's ball has the long-game length and spin characteristics of a Pinnacle and the short game control of a balata. This has fundamentally changed golf and has led to the quagmire of today.
11.21.2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

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