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British Open 2023: R&A says 'Doing nothing not an option' on distance rollback

July 19, 2023

Icon Sportswire

HOYLAKE, England — R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said “doing nothing is not an option” regarding rollback of the golf ball.

Slumbers, speaking to the media Wednesday ahead of this week’s Open Championship, noted the governing body remains in the notice and comment period on its proposal to curb growing distances in the game. However, Slumbers said it is the R&A’s role and responsibility to do “what is right for the sport when we reach our determination on the way forward.”

“We've put forward a targeted and proportionate measure to address a complex issue which we believe is key to preserving the inherent challenge of golf and to ensuring that it has a sustainable future,” Slumbers said.

Earlier this year, the USGA and R&A proposed a new golf ball testing standard for elite competition that would roll back performance by 20 yards or more, although that proposal still must navigate the feedback period that lasts through mid-August. So far the proposal has elicited strong, emotional responses from all walks of the game, but Slumbers said there have been two areas receiving the most interest.

“If you change the driver, you're going to change three, four, maybe five clubs in the bag, which could get hot relative to a less forgiving driver,” Slumbers explained. “A model local rule then had a bigger impact. And secondly, please don't affect the recreational game, and that's why in our comment we're going for model local rule for the elite golf.”

Slumbers clarified that “elite golf” doesn’t just mean professional or high amateur competitions. “I've always felt that elite golf is starting at pretty well under 18 boys' level golf where we're seeing the same growth in distance, and it's that piece that we're now working forward to it,” he said.

Slumbers also said he’s keeping an eye on driver technology, but at the moment he’s focused on the golf ball.

Should the proposed modified local rule on the golf ball go through, it wouldn’t take effect until January 2026, and then the various professional golf tours would have to decide to enact the MLR for it to be in effect. This proposal is the result of the ruling bodies’ position on driving distance outlined in its conclusions from the Distance Insight research project. Previously, “the objectives were to identify mechanisms to address the persistent increases in hitting distance over time that have fueled the pace at which golf courses are lengthening, as well as to enhance the reward of a central impact.”

​​Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.