In the world of golf, few topics have stirred as much debate recently as the decision to roll back golf ball performance standards. This change, announced by the USGA and R&A, aims to address the increasing distances achieved in the sport, especially at the professional level. Set to take effect in January 2028 for professionals and January 2030 for recreational golfers, the move has generated a spectrum of reactions from the golfing community.
In this post we summarize some of the information out there so you don't have to, but we've included links to more detailed articles in case you want to dive in.
Our take (spoiler alert) - This won't take effect until 2030 for most of us. That's 6 years away as we write this blog in December 2023. So...
The primary goal behind the golf ball rollback is to ensure the "long-term stability" of the sport by reducing driving distances. This is achieved by revising ball testing conditions to accommodate higher clubhead speeds, thereby reducing the distance potential of golf balls. Under the new standards, professional and elite amateur golfers are expected to see a reduction of 12-15 yards in their drives. However, for recreational golfers with average swing speeds, the expected loss in distance is projected to be 5 yards or less.
Further reading from Golf.com
Recreational golfers' opinions are varied. Some agree with the need for a rollback, citing the differences in equipment and play between amateurs and professionals. Others feel that the rollback is unnecessary, especially since most recreational players do not face a distance problem. The USGA's decision has been criticized for potentially penalizing the majority of golfers who do not play from the tips and for not addressing other pressing issues like the increase in golf course sizes
Many recreational golfers question the necessity and effectiveness of the rollback. Critics argue that the decision overregulates the sport and that golf should focus more on participation and enjoyment rather than strict governance. There are doubts about the practicality of controlling the distance of every manufactured golf ball, and some see the rollback as unlikely to reinstate older tour venues into prominence. A common sentiment is that the sport should halt future distance gains but leave current ball technology untouched.
Conversely, a segment of the golfing population, particularly senior and non-competitive players, feel that the rollback will have little to no impact on their game. They argue that the changes won't be noticeable for most recreational players, and that for many, the joy of golf lies not in the distance of the drive but in the quality of the shot and the overall experience on the course. There's a belief that the governing bodies could have been more drastic in their approach but chose moderation to avoid significant disruptions.
At Two Guys with Balls, we see both sides but are probably in the accept and move on camp. There's a lot of choices when it comes to golf balls and we don't think it will be too complicated to find a ball that suits your game and wallet.
The rollback has also raised concerns about potential commercial and ethical implications. Some view it as a move driven by commercial interests, benefiting golf ball manufacturers at the expense of players who will need to purchase new, conforming balls. There's also apprehension about the possibility of cheating and enforcement challenges, both in manufacturing and playing. Questions arise on how the new rules will be policed and whether there will be a market for non-conforming, "black market" balls.
Further reading from FirstCallGolf.com
Industry experts have diverse views on the necessity of the rollback. Some see it as a step towards maintaining the integrity of golf courses and the sport's long-term sustainability. Others believe the rollback might not significantly impact professional play and could unnecessarily penalize recreational golfers. PGA Tour insider Dan Rapaport called the decision "stupid" and "very, very silly," expressing skepticism about the need for such a change.
Brandel Chamblee criticized the decision, suggesting it was based on a narrow view of how a small number of players affect a few golf courses. He raised concerns about the impact on distance and the potential need for new equipment to accommodate the new ball characteristics.
Professional golfers have largely expressed opposition to the golf ball rollback. Key points from their reactions include:
Overall, most professional golfers seem to disagree with the rollback, citing various reasons such as its impact on the game's appeal, the unfair disadvantage to certain players, and the disruption it could cause in the professional golfing landscape.
One notable exception is Rory McIlroy, who has expressed his support for the golf-ball rollback plan. Contrary to the views of many critics, he believes that the rollback will not significantly impact regular golfers. In his view, the rollback will not affect the average golfer's score, handicap, or enjoyment of the game, stating that giving up 5-10 yards off the tee won't have a material effect on these aspects.
McIlroy argues that the rollback puts golf back on a path of sustainability and will help bring back certain skills in the professional game that have been lost over the past two decades. He also suggests that the anger directed at the governing bodies should instead be aimed at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers who, in his opinion, opposed bifurcation because they believed it would negatively affect their bottom lines. McIlroy points out that the game is already bifurcated in reality, and he emphasizes that bifurcation would have been a logical solution for everyone, but financial considerations prevailed.
The golf ball rollback presents a significant change in the sport, particularly for professional golfers. While it aims to address the challenge of increasing driving distances, it also brings forth a multitude of opinions and concerns. From skepticism and discontent to indifference and acceptance, the golfing community remains divided. As the implementation date approaches, it will be interesting to see how these perspectives evolve and how the sport adapts to this notable shift.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.