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A Long Term Response to Distance

The Ping Chairman and CEO offers a new argument to deal with distance gains

December 2011

For as long as I can remember, golf has been challenged by concerns over driving distance. 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. Now, we learn average driving distance on the PGA Tour just had another increase -- it broke through 290 yards for the first time (and with so many dynamic young golfers working toward a Tour card, who knows where it will go from here). So, once again we are hearing the question: "what, if anything, should be done about it?"

With so many other challenges facing the game, we need to be sure any "distance discussions" focus on the long term -- on solutions that can quickly and easily respond to future increases in distance (no matter the cause); on ideas that give professional events and courses a tool that allows each to best address the distance concerns unique to their venue; on proposals that recognize it is far simpler to adjust the ball to the course, than to adjust the course to the ball. Finally, we need a response that will resolve this issue once and for all. To get this discussion rolling, here is how I think we can do just that:

-- Replace today's single golf ball distance limit with three different "Ball Distance Ratings" (or "BDRs") - one that is the same as today's limit, one that is shorter and one that is longer.

-- Adopt a "BDR Condition of Competition" -- each event could apply the BDR appropriate for its course design and yardage, and for the skill level of the golfers competing at the event.

-- Include BDR as a factor in calculating handicaps -- just as "slope rating" or choice of tee box does today, the BDR of the ball you use will factor into your handicap.

BDR golf balls should have similar flight characteristics as today's ball (trajectory, spin rates, etc) with the only variable being distance. Some details may be challenging, but I have no doubt the USGA and the R&A are up to the task. With distance as the only variable, an example of what could be done would be to adopt a color code for the several BDRs (just like we do with tee boxes), perhaps using "gold, silver and bronze". A "silver dot" rating could apply to balls that conform to the current distance limits, a "gold dot" rating to balls that are longer (perhaps 30 yards longer), and a "bronze dot" rating for balls that are shorter than today's ball limit (again, maybe 30 yards shorter). More BDR levels could be added, if needed, to address future increases in driving distance by Tour professionals.

If the game adopted a "BDR Condition of Competition", I believe the vast majority of events would choose to allow the same balls (and ball limit) used today. Most courses hosting professional tour events were built with, or have added, sufficient length to challenge the world's best golfers. Perhaps a small number of tournaments, those played at some of the game's classic courses, would find it exciting to put the original design elements of the layout back in play by requiring shorter rated golf balls. These events may even generate a lot of interest, and TV viewers. A key point of this idea is that it puts control over those decisions with the event itself. It also gives each venue a new "long term" option for responding to future increases in driving distance -- bring in the bull dozers, or simply adopt a new BDR.

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