The USGA and R&A released their long-awaited Distance Insight Project report on Tuesday, analyzing the long ball's influence—in the past, present and projected future—on the sport. The summary and its associated papers serve as a conversation starter rather than a bill of solutions, but their tone is quite clear: The increases must stop.
“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end,” the report’s 16-page “Conclusions” document reads. “Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable or sustainable in the future. In reaching this conclusion, our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.”
To drive home this sentiment, part of the evidence the governing bodies pointed to was the driving distances on golf's professional tours over the past two decades. More specifically, the surge in those figures.
And just what were those specific gains that tour pros made?
Since 2003—the year after the USGA and R&A released the Joint Statement of Principles as a notice that they would be monitoring more closely the effects of advancing equipment technology on the game—distance on the PGA Tour has jumped 7.6 yards. On the Korn Ferry Tour, the rise has been 10.5 yards spike, while the European Tour has seen an 8.5-yard increase.
The Conclusions document further explains that the driving distance average for the 20 longest hitters on the PGA Tour and European Tour had reached 310 yards, and that the average driving distance overall for the combined tours was 294 yards. Since 2013, that average has increased “at a rate of about one yard per year.”
Also of note is the increase in ball speed. Since 2007, ball speed has jumped 4.9 mph, with average clubhead speed rising 1.7 mph.
What the professional circuits do with this information is speculative, although the PGA Tour told Golf Digest's Mike Stachura on Tuesday that, "The R&A and the USGA are our partners, and the PGA Tour will continue to collaborate with them. We believe the game is best served when all are working in a unified way. ... The PGA Tour is committed to ensuring any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport."