The ruling bodies of golf keep a close eye on how far players are hitting the ball, in part because of criticism that the USGA and R&A let technology get away from them in the 1990s and early 2000s, and, in part, to provide guidance to owners and operators about course lengths and maintenance practices.
On Thursday, the USGA and R&A issued an 18-page report on driving distance in professional golf. And while drilling into the data might leave you cross-eyed, the surprising summary from the research is that on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, the European Tour and the PGA Tour Champions, average drives have increased only 1 percent (about 0.2 yards) a year since 2003 with the longest 10 players about 7 percent above average and the shortest 10 about 6 percent below average.
Also raising a few eyebrows, the average driving distance on the LPGA Tour, the Ladies European Tour and the Japan PGA Tour has decreased about 1 percent in that same time period.
According to the report, “The largest overall increase in driving distance has taken place on the Web.com Tour which was 5 yards longer in 2015 than it was in 2003.”
So, why are some tours getting longer (although by miniscule amounts) and others shorter?
The report is inconclusive on that point but it is worth nothing that, while more than 40,000 tee shots were analyzed, the data were not adjusted for course conditions.
The report did state, however, that: “The R&A and the USGA believe that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.
“The R&A and the USGA will consider all of these factors contributing to distance on a regular basis. Should such a situation of meaningful increases in distances arise, the R&A and the USGA would feel it immediately necessary to seek ways of protecting the game.”
The entire report is available here: