The USGA and R&A just dropped a big distance announcement. What does it mean for golfers?

Golfer with tee

The distance debate is the hottest issue in golf. It’s a scorching debate that flamed up even more on Tuesday amid a big announcement from the R&A and USGA on the next steps on their distance study.

It’s hard not to get lost in all the noise around the issue, but don’t worry, because we’re here to make sense of it all for you.

Hi Luke!

Hi!

What’s the distance debate?

The distance debate is an argument golf people have about, basically, whether pro golfers hit the ball too far, and whether golf needs to change the rules to stop golfers from hitting the ball too far.

Why are people worrying about golfers hitting the ball too far?

Because people worry about all kinds of stuff.

Seriously, though.

Well there’s a large group of people within golf who say that technological advances to golf equipment means that golfers are gaining so much distance that they’re rendering some of the most historic golf courses in the game obsolete, turning golf into a game that’s all about power and less about skill.

Their opponents argue that equipment is pretty much at its ceiling already, that the game has always been about power (which is a form of skill), and that the current dynamics are the price of progress.

There’s also a third way that’s somewhere in the middle. People who say that there is a distance issue, but that it’s mostly confined to the pro level, so we should bifurcate the rules to try to rei- in the pros without touching amateurs.

Bi-fur-what-now?

Basically means two different sets of rules for amateurs and professionals, the same way professional baseball players use wooden bats and college players use metal bats.

Alright, so tell me about this governing bodies announcement

It’s been a slow-moving process, but golf’s powers-that-be have been looking into potential distance increases and how they are affecting the game. Earlier last year, they concluded that it was a factor but didn’t propose enforcing any changes, but that they would look into it.

Fast forward to today, and the R&A is asking for “research” from manufacturers around “specific Areas of Interest to help mitigate continuing distance increase.”

Enough of the buzzwords, speak English.

Translation: These are the things we’re looking into maybe changing.

What are those things?

Basically, they are researching four potential changes:

  1. Changing the way manufacturers test golf equipment.
  2. Changing the current specifications of golf equipment.
  3. Limiting the maximum lengths of golf clubs to 46 inches.
  4. Letting “committees conducting competitions” implement specific equipment standards that would “result in shorter hitting distances.”

That last one seems important

It is, potentially. It would mean that the R&A could potentially put a local rule into effect for a future Open Championship saying that players have to use persimmon drivers, for instance, and would recognize any competition that wants to do something similar. I doubt they’d go that far, but even still, it’s a big deal!

Goodbye to Bryson’s 48-inch driver masterplan

No, it’s not dead, but it does seem as though the powers-that-be have taken note with a view of potentially nipping it in the bud if they wanted to.

When does all this go into effect?

Woah, slow down. Even if you do like the sound of all of these, all the R&A and USGA are doing is putting some more specific ideas out there and gathering research for each of them, before they decide what they should do next, if anything.

All the research would come in later this year, which means we’re probably looking at about this time next year before they put forward any potential rules changes. It’s a heated topic with lots of money on the line, so credit to the governing bodies for trying to do the process diligently, even if it is moving a little slower than some people might want it to.

So what does this mean for me?

Nothing at the moment. Potentially, it could mean you’re not allowed to use a 48 inch driver in the future, and that the way your equipment is tested could change, though it’s unclear what that means exactly yet.

Thanks for this, Luke! What should I read next?

No problem, how about this?

To add more pop to your swing, get a driver fitting from the experts at our sister company, True Spec Golf.

Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Director of Game Improvement Content at GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. In his role he oversees all the brand’s service journalism spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University and in 2017 was named News Media Alliance’s “Rising Star.” His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.