The R&A and the USGA have completed the annual review of driving distance in golf, producing a research report that documents and evaluates important findings from the 2017 season.
Introduced in 2015, the annual report examines driving distance data from seven of the major worldwide professional golf tours, based on nearly 300,000 drives per year. The data from studies of male and female amateur golfers is also included.
The 2015 and 2016 editions of the distance report presented the increases in driving distance since 2003 as a slow creep of around 0.2 yards per year. The 2017 data shows a deviation from this trend. The average distance gain across the seven worldwide tours was more than 3 yards since 2016.
As noted in previous annual reports, variability in driving distance of 4 or more yards from season to season on any one tour is not uncommon. However, this level of increase across so many tours in a single season is unusual and concerning and requires closer inspection and monitoring to fully understand the causes and effects.
As the review of this issue progresses, The R&A and the USGA remain committed to the spirit of the 2002 Joint Statement of Principles which recognise that distance impacts many aspects of golf and that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.
Increases in distance can contribute to demands for longer, tougher and more resource-intensive golf courses at all levels of the game. These trends can impact the costs to operate golf courses and put additional pressures on golf courses in their local environmental landscape. The effect of increasing distance on the balance between skill and technology is also a key consideration. Maintaining this balance is paramount to preserving the integrity of golf.
Building on the extensive research we have undertaken in recent years, we will conduct a thoughtful conversation about the effects of distance prior to making any specific proposals. We remain open-minded and our absolute priority is to ensure that all key stakeholders are involved in an open and inclusive process and that we move forward together in the best interests of golf at all levels. There is no fixed timetable but we will commence this process immediately and endeavour to reach a conclusion as promptly as possible.
In conjunction with the publication of the 2017 distance research report, The R&A and USGA are carrying out a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of increased distance on both the playing and overall health of golf.
The R&A and the USGA intend to consolidate previous work conducted by the two organisations, as well as others in the golf industry, regarding the effect of distance on the footprint and playing of the game, conduct new research on these same topics to augment the current state of knowledge of the issues, and, most importantly, in the coming months, engage with stakeholders throughout the golf industry to develop a comprehensive understanding of perspectives on distance. Additional information on this stakeholder engagement will be made available in due course.
Ultimately, The R&A and the USGA remain steadfastly committed to ensuring a sustainable and enjoyable future for golf.