Rules in Focus
As part of The R&A’s continued vigilance in monitoring the way the game is played, a rich variety of data is perpetually being collected from players at all levels of the game. Whilst the breadth and depth of this work has grown significantly since the development of The R&A’s Research and Test Centre in 2005 (we can now capture the intricacies of players’ swings using high tech cameras at thousands of frames per second), the Equipment Standards team have been measuring just how far (and wide!) golfers drive the ball from the tee since the mid-1990s. This has been done at events as diverse as The Open Championship and Club level monthly medals.
The technology used to record distance measurements has changed over the years. In the early days of measuring, the data was recorded by standing over the ball and firing a laser back to the tee, using something very similar to the distance measuring devices commonly seen on course today. In more recent years the measuring equipment has moved to more sophisticated surveying lasers which enable us to stand to the side of the fairway and get information not only on distance but also scatter (or accuracy). This equipment is very similar to that employed by the PGA Tour in their collection of the Shotlink data.
The method for selecting holes is the same for all events, independent of the ability of competitors, and basically looks to pick two holes in opposing directions, where we would normally expect drivers to be used from the tee.
At amateur events we ask players for their handicap and the club they used from the tee, which has led to a variety of witty, and sometimes very predictable, responses over the years! “Pitching wedge!” is a common one, when the drive did not travel as far as hoped. “My clubs!” is another regular quip, when asked about handicap. In general the willingness of the golfer to respond to our questions is inversely proportional to their distance from the tee, at least compared with their expectations.
Joking aside, the data which we have collected at the amateur level over the last 15 or so years is hugely valuable to The R&A and we are very grateful to the golf clubs concerned for their continued support of this work, and to the Club members for allowing us to encroach on their Saturday morning round of golf.
Obviously, there is no need for us to ask the pro golfers for their handicap, and to avoid any distraction to them, we station someone else on the tee to obtain club usage information.
The statistics collected at The Open Championship are published almost immediately, at on-site communications zones and on our website. Also, a selection of stats is reported in the daily draw sheet, including the previous day’s longest drives and the average distance for the field. Manning the collection of this information on all four days of the Championship, and organising it in such a way that it can be publicised almost immediately, is no mean feat. However, the Equipment Standards staff are ably assisted by a faithful group of volunteers, some of whom have been providing support since the first measurement events and still relish the opportunity to get inside the ropes at The Open to get an even better view of the best players in the world. Whatever the weather (think the third round at the 2002 Open at Muirfield!), these volunteers have unfailingly turned up and worked their shift and we greatly value their support and the consistency they bring to the data collection. Sometimes, they even laugh at our jokes, which is a bonus!
While the drive measuring day can be a long and tiring one, the information which is gathered is of tremendous value. At the end of the day, it is essential to The R&A that we know and understand the fidelity of the data on which we base our discussions and one of the ways we can do this is to see it and collect it ourselves.