Golf’s governing bodies have proposed a new rule to give tournament organizers the option of requiring the use of a ball that reduces distance for fear elite players would tame the courses too easily.
Advances in fitness and technology have allowed golfers to hit the ball further: At last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, world number three Rory McIlroy hit a 362-yard tee shot.
The R&A, which organizes the British Open, and other US Golf Association (USGA) lawmakers, said in 2020 that they intended to “break the ever-increasing cycle of driving distance.”
Since then they have been consulting with equipment manufacturers and on Tuesday announced a proposal for a Model Local Rule (MLR) that would give organizers the option of using specially adapted balls.
Speaking in 2021, Masters president Fred Ridley said a specific “Masters ball” would be the last resort in the battle to limit hitting distances.
The par-five 13th hole at Augusta National has been extended 35 yards for next month’s Masters.
The MLR is designed to be used only in elite competition and, if adopted, would have no impact on recreational golf.
The proposal was sent to equipment manufacturers on Monday and they can provide comments until August 14. If adopted, it would take effect in January 2026.
Under the proposals, a ball hit at a laboratory-controlled spin rate of 127 miles per hour should not travel more than 320 yards (293 meters).
The change is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14 to 15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.
“Shot distances at the elite level of the game have increased steadily over the last 20, 40 and 60 years,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said.
“It’s been two decades since we last reviewed our testing standards for ball distances. Continued and predictable increases will become a major problem for the next generation if not addressed soon.”
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: “We believe the proposed model local rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces pressure to lengthen tours.
“This is an important issue for golf and it must be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.”
The US PGA Tour said it would continue its own “extensive independent analysis” and collaborate with the USGA and R&A.
“The Tour remains committed to ensuring that any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole, without negatively affecting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport,” it said in a statement.
David Maher, chief executive of leading equipment company Acushnet, warned that the proposal “would be detrimental to the long-term well-being of golf,” stressing the need for a unified set of rules.