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  • Alistair Tait

Dear R&A & USGA: Leave average golfers out of distance debate

Golf has finally reached a crossroads in the distance debate. It seems the governing bodies, the R&A and USGA, are going to try to reign back the distances elite players are capable of achieving.

Quite why it took the R&A and USGA to finally say enough is enough is a mystery.

My message: maintain the status quo for average players.

For years we were told driving distances had levelled off. Meanwhile, courses were being lengthened to try to cater for tour pros hitting drives 300 yards plus. The governing bodies were fiddling while Rome burned.

Two years ago, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers admitted distance was an issue. Yesterday saw the R&A and USGA’s distance report. The report says:

“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end.”
“Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction.”

No kidding!

Jack Nicklaus has been saying this for years. Gary Player predicted elite players would be hitting 400 yard drives if things weren’t changed.

Despite claiming distance wasn’t a problem, the R&A went through a period of course improvements to its Open Championship rota after the turn of the century. New back tees, new bunkers, even new greens were installed on some of our best links as a result. Maybe the R&A has finally decided to do something because they can no longer extend holes on many of its championship courses. Some classic courses don’t have enough land.

My own club Woburn is a case in point. For years the Dukes staged the British Masters and provided a great challenge for Europe’s elite. At 6,971 yards off the back markers, it’s probably too short for today’s elite players. Take the 473-yard, par 4, 7th hole, the number one stroke index. It’s a monster for average players like me, but just a drive and a short iron for most tour pros.

Thankfully Woburn has the Marquess, which is long enough to challenge Europe’s best, although new tees have been added to make the course longer and tougher. That might not need to happen in future, according to the report.

“Our focus is forward-looking with a goal of building on the strengths of the game today while taking steps to alter the direction and impacts of hitting distances in the best interests of its long-term future.”

I’d hate to be Slumbers and his USGA counterpart Mike Davis. They somehow have to curb distance in the elite game while allowing average golfers to continue to enjoy the game they now play.

I think I speak for many average golfers when I say few of us want to see our drives reduced. I don’t want to return to the days of smaller headed wooden drivers. I’m quite happy that I can hit the ball slightly out of the toe or the heel and still get it in play.

To be fair to the governing bodies, the report is aimed at curbing elite players. That probably means bifurcation, which is fine by me. How they achieve that is the £64,000 question. Just leave my game alone.

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