USGA and R&A propose new Model Local Rule for golf balls
14 Mar 2023
by Sean Melia of AmateurGolf.com
USGA CEO Mike Whan and Chief Executive of the R&A Martin Slumbers didn't want to pass the buck to the next generation. That much was clear in a press conference addressing the newest model local rule that will limit the distance a golf ball travels.
The model local rule will come into play in 2026, allowing events to choose a golf ball that won't travel as far as current golf balls. In 2004, the swing speed for testing golf balls was 120 mph. The limit a ball could fly was 317 yards.
As swing speeds have increased over the last two decades among professionals and elite amateurs, that 120 mph threshold needed to be reconsidered in the mind of golf's two governing bodies. Now, golf balls will be tested at 127 mph swing speed with the same 317 yard limit on the ball's flight.
“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years,” Whan said. “It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances. Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon.”
Simply put, this means the ball will travel a shorter distance at the current swing speeds a player brings to the course.
"It would have been irresponsible to ignore this issue and tell golf courses to 'deal with it.'" Mike Whan said during the press conference.
The overall message in the press conference was about the future of the game and the stress put on golf courses hosting events. In some cases, courses are being made obsolete by the gains in distance. Some don't have any space to lengthen courses, and others are quickly running out of room. Augusta National's 13th hole might be the poster child for such issues in golf course design and redesign.
"This gives us headroom for the future," Whan said.
Whan and Slumbers continued to remind golfers that they are revisiting golf ball testing from 2004. It's something that they had to do, or else the game would continue to outgrow courses around the world.
"In 2004 they said 'Let's stop it here' but that didn't quite work," Whan said.
Whan also admitted that this isn't the total fix that some people would like it to be, but it buys them more time. In 10-15 years, we could be seeing professionals and elite amateurs swinging it 130+ mph.
So what are some other Local Model Rules? Green reading books and club length are two that were pointed out during the press conference.
What does this mean for elite amateurs and college golfers? Mike Whan wasn't sure yet, but the option will be available to use this new rule if they would like.
Slumbers and Whan were both very clear that the events they organize will be using this new rule, but they didn't state which events it would impact.
It seems right now that this is very much aimed at the men's game. The women's game, which is experiencing its own burst of distance, still has room to move backward to different tee boxes.
Recreational golfers will be able to use the golf balls they would normally use. There will be no limits on their leisurely rounds with friends. This was another important choice for both governing bodies. They wanted to acknowledge the massive growth in the recreational game over the last few years and help people enjoy the game in the same ways they have in the past.
"We didn't want to tax 99.7% of golfers with the development of harder courses and more trees and hazards in order to combat the distance elite players are hitting the ball."
"At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses," In a Martin Slumber said in a joint press release, This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.”
It will be an interesting few years of debate as elite amateur events at the state and national level consider how they should use this new rule.