The USGA and the R&A, golf's governing bodies, have formally announced a plan to roll back the distance that golf balls now travel, starting in 2028. The "rollback" decision is the result of years of analysis and study, and, according to the two authorities, is designed to combat gains in distances that threaten the sport's long-term viability.
"The decision aims to reduce the impact increased hitting distances have on golf’s long-term sustainability while minimizing the impact on the recreational game," the USGA said in a statement.
Pros will have to use conforming balls beginning in January 2028, while amateurs will have until 2030 to begin using the newly manufactured, conforming balls. For a more complete breakdown of the rollback situation, including how it will affect recreational players, go here.
While pros, particularly long-hitting pros, will see a substantial decrease in their overall yardage off the tee, the USGA contends that the effect on recreational golfers will be minimal. The average male golfer will lose three to five yards off the tee, while the average female golfer will lose one to three yards.
“Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term,” Mike Whan, USGA CEO, said in a statement announcing the change. “But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game, without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option — and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take appropriate action now.”
Many pros disagree with the USGA and R&A's decision, whether out of concern for recreational golfers or out of a desire to maintain their own length off the tee. "I think that the USGA … everything that they do is reactionary," Keegan Bradley said at a tournament last weekend. "They don't think of a solution. They just think we're going to affect a hundred percent of the population that plays golf. For the amateur world to hit the ball shorter is monstrous. I can't think of anything more stupid than that. I don't think it's very smart at all, especially when golf's growing in popularity literally coming out of COVID."
However, the USGA and R&A noted in their release that ball flight isn't the only factor in long distances, and noted that they will continue to test drivers to ensure they do not fall prey to "Driver Creep" — the continuing speed and distance growth of drivers that may end up exceeding limits set out in the organizations' Equipment Rules.
The organizations rejected the idea of "bifurcation" — that is, different equipment standards for pros and amateurs — noting that input from stakeholders over the course of a six-year review process found that there was "worldwide sentiment that the retention of a single set of playing rules and equipment standards is critically important to the sport and should apply across the game. Feedback from manufacturers resulted in the timeline being extended to 2028 to allow more time for innovation and production of new products for elite and recreational players."
The USGA and R&A developed the standard for new golf balls by increasing the swing speed necessary to drive a ball 317 yards, from 120 to 125 mph. Put another way, a new ball struck with any given speed will travel shorter than an old ball hit at the same speed. This is the first time that test swing speeds have been updated since 2004.