The recently released USGA and R&A report on driving distance sure drew a lot of attention from all corners of the golf universe. The conversation seems to immediately go to the question — should we dial back the ball as a “fix” to hitting the ball too far?
In my opinion, that is the wrong question to be asking when it comes to most of the nation’s golf course operators who open their doors and turn on the lights every morning. For sure, the best golfers in the world hitting the ball incrementally longer as time goes by poses a challenge for the fields of play where hitting a 320-yard drive is an issue. But 99.9 percent of golfers are mere mortals.
I can tell you with certainty that USGA leadership wants to support the success of our game and business. While they are asked about the ball limitations all the time, I see them wanting to ask bigger questions about distance to golf’s stakeholders. The right questions to ask here are — As owners and operators of golf courses, how has distance affected our business operations? How might distance affect us in the future? And then to ask the fundamental question, what problem needs to be solved when it comes to the distance question, if any?
To me, this is a matter of “right sizing” golf, if indeed it’s needed, because it’s not necessarily needed everywhere. At the nation’s golf courses, we have a distance problem for sure. Most golfers are playing tees too far back for their own enjoyment, and for everyone else’s enjoyment (slow play is certainly influenced by people playing tees too challenging for their skill levels).
There has been a growing movement to build more sets of tees, and to implement programs that help golfers identify the best set of tees according to their swing speed or driving distance. Tee boxes should have nothing to do with gender or age, but how far you hit the ball off the tee, and how well you can put the ball in play to give you a shot of getting to the green “in regulation.” Just Google “ASGCA Longleaf” and you’ll find some great work being done by the owners of Longleaf Golf and Family Club in North Carolina and the American Society of Golf Course Architects to encourage better matching of player-to-tee box.
USGA leadership has publicly shared concerns about the expanded footprint of golf courses and its resulting impact on the game’s viability, and rightfully so. We understand that many have been built to accommodate both equipment that allows the ball to fly pretty far and wide, and to satisfy the desires of course architects, builders and owners to have courses with teeth (translation: over 7,200 yards from the tips, bunkers everywhere you look, etc.). We are all concerned with the costs involved in maintaining land and features that may be superfluous to the golfing experience. To that point, the USGA has introduced some interesting technology to help course operators identify the cost of maintaining areas of the course where players may rarely encounter.
I’m glad to share that NGCOA and USGA leadership are in constant communication with each other. Both organizations realize the symbiotic relationship between the game itself and the business of running the playing fields. NGCOA will continue to do our part to ensure the interests and perspectives of course owners and operators are included in any major questions impacting the golf ecosystem.