“Hit if further and golf will be easier” we all whisper to ourselves. But is it time we put the brakes on this unwavering need for more distance? We’ve got 100 years of data to suggest just that.
By Charlotte Ibbetson
Distance: It’s like an itch we can never really scratch.
And no matter what level you play the game at, it’s likely that you’ve worked on hitting the ball further on numerous occasions. You’ve probably purchased multiple new drivers too.
We go to the gym to get stronger, buy new clubs, take lessons. And so it goes on.
But is this incessant need for more distance doing more harm than good?
Yes. According to the latest report by The R&A and USGA, it is.
They’ve used more than 100 years of data, thousands of interviews and hours of research to produce their Distance Insights Report; a report that looks at the impact of hitting distance in golf.
The 15-page conclusion paper summarises that for more than 100 years, average hitting distances have increased. And in direct correlation, the average length of golf courses globally has increased too.
In short, with a desire to always hit the ball further, golf has got stuck in a vicious cycle: get stronger, hit it further, design new clubs, hit it further again, build longer golf courses, repeat.
But what does that really mean for the game?
- Golf’s strategic challenge has been compromised. Golf courses that can’t keep up or can’t become long enough run the risk of becoming less challenging, less appealing and even obsolete.
- Increased hitting distance undermines the core principle that golf is a game of skill, narrowing its appeal to a much smaller audience.
- The environmental impact of golf courses continuing to become longer is huge, with challenges around the use of water, chemicals and other resources.
- Longer courses mean longer playing times – totally the opposite direction we’re trying to take the ‘modern’ game of golf in.
- More challenging tee positions to counter the need for longer golf courses makes the game much more difficult than it needs to be, especially for newcomers.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “we believe we have reached a pivotal moment in golf. The impact of long-term hitting distance increases on some of golf’s essential elements are now clear – including changing the strategic challenge of the sport, altering the balance of skills needed to be successful and risking courses being less challenging or obsolete. Our objective as governing bodies is to work with the key stakeholders in golf to address this issue in a way that brings the sport together and which ensures it continues to thrive for many years to come.”
Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA continued:
“This is not about the last few years or the next few years but rather about the long-term future of the game.”
No solutions have been determined yet, but it’s clear that this report has shone the spotlight on a really significant issue in golf. Increased hitting distance has put unnecessary pressure on the sport, and it’s a problem that has a profound impact on the future of golf; from its core philosophies to participation and costs.
Now we have an opportunity to end the cycle.
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