Global Edition

R&A & USGA unveil proposed changes to equipment rules

3.09pm 2nd February 2021 - Corporate

The R&A and the USGA have announced that they are looking at implementing a number of significant changes to the rules governing equipment in order to stop increased hitting distances in golf.

Crucially, one of them relates to bifurcation – changing the rules for professionals vs amateurs, while the other key points involve driver shaft length, the testing of golf balls and the spring-like effect on driver faces.

The details of the proposals, which were sent out to golf equipment manufacturers on February 1, follows the conclusions of the Distance Insights Report delivered last February. It is the first step of the established Equipment Rulemaking Procedures, which give the opportunity for golf’s stakeholders to provide research and perspectives on topics that might lead to equipment rules changes. 

The notice, which can be downloaded here, addresses two specific areas of interest. Firstly, the potential use of a Local Rule that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls intended to result in shorter hitting distances. This would enable committees conducting competitions to stipulate whether such equipment should be used. It could be available at all levels of play and would also allow golfers playing outside of competition to choose for themselves.

Secondly, a review of the overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. This review would consider whether any existing specifications should be adjusted or any new specifications created to help mitigate continuing distance increases. It would not consider revising the overall specifications to produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the sport. 

A list of club and ball specifications to be reviewed can be found in the official notice.

Stakeholders are invited to participate in the process by sharing any data or perspectives they might have on these topics by 2 November, 2021. The topics are purely areas for research. No solutions or decisions are being proposed at this stage. Any proposals for rule changes that might result from this research will be communicated in accordance with the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures.

The R&A and the USGA are addressing the effectiveness of current equipment testing processes, protocols and standards with respect to distance limits. As a result, the governing bodies are seeking comment from equipment manufacturers on three proposed Equipment Standards changes, as follows: 

Proposal 1: Club length – reduction to 46 inches available as Model Local Rule. Original proposal delivered in 2016 and paused in 2017 due to the Distance Insights project. Comment period ends on March 4, 2021. 

Proposal 2: Update on testing method for golf balls. Comment period ends on August 2, 2021. 

Proposal 3: Change to testing tolerance – Characteristic Time. Comment period ends on August 2, 2021.            

A detailed summary of the Proposed Equipment Standards changes can be viewed here.

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “We are now able to progress with the work on this critical topic and are beginning the next phase as expeditiously as possible. The research topics and the proposed changes we have announced will be the focus of our attention in the coming months and we look forward to gaining insights from the golf industry and fully understanding their perspectives on these key areas. We remain fully committed to conducting this hugely important exercise for the sport thoroughly, efficiently and collaboratively.”

Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA, said: “The research conducted through Distance Insights clearly shows that hitting distances have consistently increased through time and, if left unchecked, could threaten the long-term future of our game at every level and every golf course on which it is played. This is the first forward step in a journey and a responsibility the USGA and The R&A share with the worldwide golf community, to ensure that golf continues to thrive for the next hundred years and beyond.”

The Distance Insights Report released last year highlighted the impact of long-term hitting distance increases on some of golf’s essential elements, including changing the strategic challenge of the game, altering the variety of skills needed to be successful and risking courses becoming less challenging or obsolete. Further, the report states that the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has adverse consequences that ultimately affect golfers at all levels of the game. The governing bodies are working with the key stakeholders in golf to address these issues in a way that brings the game together and which ensures it continues to thrive for many years to come.

Work is also currently being conducted to develop industry-wide recommendations and best management practices on course design, set-up and course conditions related to distance for all golf courses and golfers, as detailed among next steps in the Distance Insights conclusions document delivered last year.  The USGA is currently conducting field testing and research, with outcomes to be delivered throughout 2021. 

The 2020 Annual Driving Distance Report
The R&A and the USGA has also today released the 2020 Annual Driving Distance Report. The full report can be found here.

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