Rollback reaction

Golf ball kingpin Titleist isn't laying down on rollback, but asking for more talks

December 06, 2023

Mike Ehrmann

In any change to the Rules of Golf that involves golf balls, there is one company that has the most to win or lose: Titleist. It is the brand most associated with golf balls and has dominated sales in that section of the market for years. In Acushnet Co.’s 2022 Annual Report, Titleist’s parent company said that 74 percent of balls played on professional tours around the world sported the distinctive Titleist logo, and in that season, all four of the men’s major winners played the company’s golf ball.

So, how Titleist reacted to the USGA and R&A’s announcement on Wednesday of a universal golf ball rollback was a sizeable curiosity as many in the industry waited on word from the top of the mount. It took hours more than some companies for Titleist to make a statement, but when it issued that opinion in the early evening, Acushnet CEO Dave Maher did not hold back in assertions that taking away distance from players from all skill sets is not good for the game.

“At a time when interest in golf is vibrant (2023 will mark the 6th consecutive year in which the number of golfers has grown), golf courses are broadly adding forward tees, back tees are used for less than 5% of rounds, and the average carry distances for female and male golfers are 147 yards and 215 yards, respectively, it is appropriate and necessary that the merits of any proposed equipment rollback are thoroughly evaluated in pursuit of a high degree of consensus and support around meaningful change,” Maher’s opening statement read.

Maher continued by saying that the “golf ball rollback overly impacts golfers and does not fully reflect the input of those closest to the game. There have been requests to align on what data is used and how it is used to draw conclusions prior to any equipment changes being made. Many important stakeholders do not see distance as a problem the way the governing bodies do, and therefore come to differing conclusions about how to proceed to ensure the best possible outcome for the sport.

“We support the position of the PGA Tour and others that there are many areas of focus at the elite level, including initiatives related to golf course setup and conditioning, and other competitive variables which, if desired, can limit the effects of distance while also providing the opportunity for a diverse skill set to succeed at the highest level.”

The statement noted that Titleist believes that the current ball regulations work well, and that manufacturing is “tightly controlled” and ball speeds “have been moderated as was the intent of the rule.”


Justin Thomas, winner of the PGA at Southern Hills, was one of four Titleist players to capture a men's major title in 2022.

David Cannon

Maher said the mean of the fastest 1 percent of measured clubhead speeds on the PGA Tour was flat from 2019-2021 and declined in 2022 and 2023, and the mean of the fastest 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent and 50 percent of measured clubhead speeds has been flat since 2017. He pointed out that the average course length on the PGA Tour in 2023 was less than 7,200 yards and that new golf courses are being built at shorter distances than before 2010.

“Not all sports have endured from generation to generation the way golf has endured, and the governing bodies deserve credit for having effectively balanced the forces of tradition and technology,” the statement said. “This has helped to preserve golf’s unified appeal and values while encouraging innovation that has helped to make the sport more relevant and enjoyable.”

Finally, Acushnet encouraged further collaboration with the R&A, USGA and stakeholders to produce a “meaningful examination of this decision and its consequences, and to discuss alternatives as we look to protect golfers’ enjoyment of the game and the health of golf courses around the world to ensure golf’s promising future.”e

In the decision announced by golf’s governing bodies, a revised Overall Distance Standard test would employ a robot swing speed of 125 mph (up from the previous 120 mph), with the same distance limit for a driver of 317 yards. Manufacturers would then have to produce balls that will be dialed back to meet that standard. The rule is set to go into effect for elite golfers in 2028 and amateur players in 2030.