Golf's authorities to put the brakes on ball flight
The R&A and USGA are to issue a joint report next month outlining the leap in hitting distances which is threatening to overpower traditional courses and make new ones six-hour slogs.
And they finally appear ready to grasp the nettle and be prepared to take on the equipment manufacturers by placing technological restrictions on players like Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, who average almost 320 yards off the tee.
“There has been a significant move up across all tours – we’re looking at the longest on-record average driving distance and that has caused us as well as our colleagues at the USGA serious concern,” said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
“We have talked for a number of years about slow creep but this is a little bit more than slow creep. It’s actually quite a big jump.
“Our 2002 joint statement of principles put a line in the sand, or purported to put a line in the sand. Our view is when you start to look at this data now that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed on where we go.”
It is a move which would risk an outcry – and even lawsuits – from companies who have invested heavily in technological advancement and who market their products with promises of maximum length, but the R&A hope to bring them onside with the carrot of long-term gains.
“I’m hoping that we have a constructive conversation with all stakeholders for the good of the game,” said Slumbers, speaking at the R&A’s equipment-testing facility at Kingsbarns.
“We want the game to expand. We want more people to play. We will all work and talk around this whole distance issue.
“The technology in the drivers is getting better, the club head speed is able to go up because of that and there are a few more players coming through who have been brought up with the longer-hitting environment, so it’s a whole combination of things. But the data is going one way.
“There are many, many options available and there will be a lot of discussions to have.”
Stretching out courses to absorb the distance explosion has been a factor in the other major bugbear the R&A has been attempting to confront – the tortoise-like pace of play.
The paint-drying sight of US Ryder Cup player JB Holmes taking more than four minutes to play an approach shot at the Farmers Insurance Open last month brought it under the microscope again.
But Slumbers believes improvements are being made in this area.
“Pace of play is a significant impediment to people taking up the game and there has been a steady increase in the time it’s taken to play for years, but the European Tour is doing some great things on it and we’ve started on Ready Golf in all our championships except The Open,” he said.
“And if you look at The Open it’s quite interesting about times. The average for round one and round two at Birkdale last year was four and threequarter hours and the average for round three and four, in twoballs, was three hours, 45 minutes.
“Even Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar, despite taking 20 minutes on the ruling on the 13th, took 4:06.
“I’m quite happy with those numbers considering the difficulty of the golf course. I would be surprised if anybody objects to that.”
The Spieth incident, which saw the eventual champion playing a blind approach shot from the practice ground after a wild miss off the 13th tee, is unlikely to be repeated at Carnoustie this year.
“It made for captivating television in many ways. It showed wonderful presence of mind by the Champion Golfer of the Year and a real measure of what golf is – you have to use your brain as well as your skill. But when we go back, we might think about it as being out of bounds,” he said.