Golf’s governing bodies fumble chance to make change with Distance Report


Golf’s governing bodies fumble chance to make change with Distance Report


Golf’s governing bodies fumble chance to make change with Distance Report

Nearly all the data in the recently released U.S. Golf Association and R&A report on distance has been available since the various professional tours finished their 2017 seasons. Nothing should have come as a shock to anyone, but after listening to Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player talk recently about golf balls that fly too far, some people thought the report would go further than in years past.

After hearing USGA executive director Mike Davis and R&A CEO Martin Slumbers talk about the need for more study and discussions regarding distance, many people thought we might see a more proactive position from golf’s governing bodies.

Instead, what we got as part of the report was a section that basically says the game’s governing bodies have decided to finally get serious about gathering information from many different sources.

“The USGA and the R&A intend to consolidate previous work conducted by the two organizations, as well as others in the golf industry, regarding the effect of distance on the footprint and playing of the game,” the report said. “(We will) conduct new research on these same topics to augment the current state of knowledge of the issues, and, most importantly, in the coming months, engage with stakeholders throughout the golf industry to develop a comprehensive understanding of perspectives on distance. Additional information on this stakeholder engagement will be made available in due course.”

If you heard a thud around the time of the release, it was probably a critic of the USGA’s and R&A’s position on distance fainting after reading that paragraph.

What has taken the folks in Far Hills, N.J., and St. Andrews, Scotland, so long to start that process? The average driving distance on the men’s tours has increased by 2.2 percent since 2003. The Tour’s driving distance average last year was more than 302 yards and the PGA Tour’s average exceeded 292 yards. A trend is not made in a year, but that appears to have finally made the folks who govern golf think that now is the time to start gathering information and developing a complete picture of what distance increases mean to the sport.

The time to start this process was years ago. The USGA and the R&A should have been continuously running tests and detailed studies, and sharing their findings with the public, since the adoption of their 2002 Joint Statement of Principles. The joint principles focus on the governing bodies working together, hand in hand, to stay on top of trends and advancements in technology. It would have been a natural time to begin gathering data and developing opinions based on facts. Not only facts about distance as it relates to professional golf, which have been released in recent years in the annual Distance Report, but also facts about recreational golf; distance’s effects on water usage, fertilizer and chemical usage; pace of play; and golf course profitability.

Regardless of where you stand with regards to distance, everyone can agree that the more facts introduced into the discussion, the better, and the USGA and R&A should have been playing a bigger role in the collection and analysis of data from every perspective.

To be fair, the Distance Report included information collected by the R&A on male and female “club” golfers at a handful of venues in the United Kingdom since 1996. They have learned that over the last 21 years, the average driving distance among those men has gone from about 200 yards to 208 yards. The average driving distance among the women studied between 2013 and 2017 was 146 yards.

The USGA told me last week that the organization will probably conduct similar tests at clubs in the U.S., and it plans to talk with equipment manufacturers, course superintendents and operators, groundskeepers, designers and a host of other people involved in the game. After the data has been gathered and opinions have been voiced, the USGA and R&A will analyze everything that has been collected and base their next move on facts, not hunches.

That’s good, but all of this should be an ongoing part of the USGA and R&A’s mission. The idea of learning everything possible about the game, from as many different perspectives as possible, should be a concept woven into the fabric of these groups, even when legends of the game are not crying out that distance is out of control and traditionalists are bemoaning the thought of historically significant courses becoming obsolete for championship play.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former senator from New York, once told a colleague in a heated debate, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

It’s a pity golf’s governing bodies have waited this long to start collecting what we need right now.


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