Ball distance

Added on August 21st, 2019 by Lorne Smith
Posted in The ball

There are three fundamental aspects of golf over which The R&A has powerful influence:
Rules, Turf and Equipment.

  • 1) The R&A did well with the recent rule changes, listening to the concerns of recreational golf, speeding up pace of play, simplifying the rules and relying on the integrity of the average golfer. FineGolf likes to think it had some influence through promoting Lord Ted Dexter’s rules SEE HERE from 2010 onwards.
  • 2) What is The R&A’s leadership on the subject of turf? FineGolf will return to this in a later article.
  • 3) The third issue, now defined as “hitting distance of the ball”, will be covered in an R&A report due by the end of 2019.

The controversy around the ball almost mirrors the history of the game. FineGolf has explained “this historical controversy” SEE HERE and it has a number of elements to it. See also Nick Park’s prescient Golf Monthly article from 1988.

Can we expect from The R&A anything more than a modern bureaucratic fudge? Their reply in the 2018 FineGolf interview was: “a broad base of understanding will be carefully considered as we conduct the most comprehensive dialogue on distance to date.” Does ‘kicking a topic into the long grass’ spring to mind?

Well, while researching the Luffness New review I came across a quote from Freddie Tait, the legendary hero of Victorian amateur golf who had been doing some scientific studies with his father on the ball.

He wrote in 1896 “We think we have at last arrived at the truth of the initial velocity of a well driven ball. It is 220 feet per second” or 150 mph.

The PGA measure and publish the velocity of every pro’s drive and at a recent tournament SEE HERE it came in between 150 and 200 mph.

How far a ball goes is not solely the result of its velocity as things like launch angle and spin and how it reacts with the turf affect the distance of carry and roll.

The introduction of the Haskell rubber-wound “bounding billy” ball required all golf courses to be lengthened at the beginning of the last century and it is where the derogatory comment “he is a bounder” originated.

Although golf architects and equipment manufacturers have enjoyed enhanced profits ever since, many respected greenkeepers (including John Philp, a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel,   SEE HERE) and golfers (including Jack Nicklaus) have made the clarion call that:

  •  “The ball should be designed to fit the courses – NOT the courses to fit the ball”
  •  “Skill and craft in winning championships should be that of the golfer – NOT the manufacturer”.

We have heard that in the past the manufacturers complained about ‘restraint of trade’ and having deep pockets could out spend the ruling bodies in the courts.

Nevertheless, in 2016 The R&A argued SEE HERE that since around 2003 the ball was not being hit further by the pros.

This suggests to FineGolf that The R&A and USGA had successfully reined in the ball manufacturers and achieved an agreement to stop balls being manufactured to go further.

This begs the question that there should be no reason: “Why the regulators can’t now require that these distances, for numerous reasons, be reduced?”

It could perhaps best be experimented at selected elite tournaments, a bifurcation that The R&A has resisted but no longer can, having bifurcated in setting club-head groove rules.

FineGolf, following The R&A’s replies in their FineGolf interview, will not be holding its breath for anything more than some tasty commercially-led short-term fudge from their ball distance report due by the end of 2019 but would it not be great if we were proved wrong and they really gave some practical leadership?

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