The USGA and R&A, golf’s governing bodies, have released their research on driving distance and scoring averages in professional golf through the 2016 season.

As with the 2016 report, distances are described as increasing at a “slow creep” and scoring averages remain basically stagnant. For this research, data was drawn from the seven major professional tours, including the PGA, European, Japan Golf, Web.com, Champions, LPGA and Ladies European tours, and goes back as far as 1968 in some instances, and only 2003 in others.

Driving distance is calculated using GPS technology on two holes during competitive rounds that are:

  1. Oriented in opposing directions.
  2. Have flat landing areas.
  3. Are selected based on the likelihood of players hitting driver.

An excerpt from the report may explain why distances are gaining at such a slow creep, rather taking any drastic leaps or bounds.

As the governing authorities for the Rules of Golf including equipment rules, R&A Rules Ltd (the “R&A”) and the United States Golf Association (the “USGA”) have continued to monitor closely the effects of advancing equipment technology on the playing of the game. Furthermore, new equipment rules have been introduced throughout this period, when appropriate, including restrictions on the performance and dimensions of clubs and refinement of the testing methodology utilized for testing golf balls to ensure that it is representative of the equipment used by and performance of elite golfers.

Below, we’ve selected what we deem to be the most significant charts presented in the report, and we’ve also highlighted the most significant data presented. We do, however, encourage everyone to read the report in its entirety to get the full impact of what’s being presented.

Driving Distance Since 1980

USGAdistancereport

Driving Distance Since 2003

DistanceUSGA

Scoring Average since 1980

USGAscoringaverage

Important Takeaways

  • The average driving distance including the PGA, European, Web.com, Champions and LPGA tours has increased approximately 1.2 percent since 2003 through the 2016 season, which equates to 0.2 yards per year.
  • From 2003 to 2016, the PGA Tour driving distance has increased from 285.9 to 290.0 yards, a 4.1-yard increase. The European Tour saw just an 1.8-yard increase over the same time period, while the Champions Tour saw the largest differential with a 4.8-yard increase.
  • Since 1980, scoring average has dropped across all seven major Tours by an average of 0.04 strokes per year.
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  1. Just look at the average ball speeds. 2007 there were 4 players averaging over 180 ball speed. There are 16 now. 50th in 2007 was averaging 169 it’s now 172mph. It’s all about how far the ball goes now. Jack Nicklaus has been saying for ages that the ball needs dialling back.

    • Where is the average ball speed listed, and from whom?
      Could it be, that the field is just getting younger and faster?
      Look at the LET tour, they lost 13 yards since 2006!

  2. Quote: “From 2003 to 2016, the PGA Tour driving distance has increased from 285.9 to 290.0 yards, a 4.1-yard increase. The European Tour saw just an 1.8-yard increase over the same time period, while the Champions Tour saw the largest differential with a 4.8-yard increase.” – No, no, no. You’ve got it completely wrong. I have it on good authourity from the major club manufacturers that their drivers have been getting 10-15 yards longer every year. Please check your facts.

  3. Look up what Bubba and Victor Schwamkrug used to average back in the early 2000’s, 330-360 yards AVERAGE….long before all the hype of the M1, Epic, and RBZ 15 more yards claims….the older technology was longer and more solid, and more accurate for most golfers. But we are lambs being led to $400 slaughters every year.

    • The only interesting thing that new drivers brought to the table during recent years, is adjustability.

      B.t.w.:

      The Japan Golf Tour and the LET desperately need farther flying golf balls and shorter courses,
      because their average driving distance decreased since around 2012! ;-)

    • I agree that when pured, distance will be comparable to 10+ years ago. The main improvement in technology is forgiveness. The distance these drivers get you on off center hits is what make these newer clubs shine. Now, if you center it every time, keep rockin the R580 (I did until the M2 came out).

  4. Does anyone ever think that golf club tech has remained basically the same for years and the players themselves are actually fitter/younger/stronger/more flexible etc etc.

    • Not on the Champions Tour. They may take a little better care of themselves than they used to, but they’re still over 50. And the fat guys and slightly built guys all report the same gains as the guys who ingest nothing but organic broccoli and distilled water.
      The gains are across the board. Seniors. Women. Every Tour. It’s not about fitness.
      The fact that scoring average is virtually unchanged is irrelevant unless it is reported how much longer the courses have gotten in the same time period, an expense that never should have been necessary if the governing bodies had done their jobs.
      The graphs show 30 yards across the board since 1980. If baseball made their ball hotter by 30 feet, imagine the uproar. Remember the steroid era? Now that we no longer have that, stats have fallen back to levels comparable to other eras of the game. Are those athletes not fitter than those of the past? It’s irrelevant. Fitness in golf is about clothing deals and wanting to be considered athletes. And since golfers are now athletes, they’ll be done by 40 just like in ever other sport. See: “Woods, Eldrick “Tiger” for proof.
      Where the failing was with the governing bodies was not forcing the spin rates for multi layered balls to remain the same as the wound balls. That certainly could have been done, as most of the distance increases are due to much lower spin rates.

            • Most of the losses on the LET were in the last two years, so weather could be the primary factor. The 5 yard difference on the Japan Tour is statistically insignificant. I know you want to believe that the gains of the last 30 years are from something other than the ball but, it’s the ball. The game is easier than it’s ever been, and that’s also because of the ball. You probably weren’t around to have hit a 70s era balata Titleist. If you could hit that spinny ball straight, then you were something special. Remember, a ball that is capable of having a lot of backspin is also capable of having a lot of sidespin.

              • Since 2003 is no significant increase in driving distance,
                across the board. Seniors. Women. Every Tour. It’s not about the ball (anymore).
                Wake up, we are in the new millennium, and since the COR is restricted to 1.5, it is just an up and down in driving distance.
                If the 5 yards less is insignificant, than it is also the 5 yards more.
                And 13 yards less in 10 years is significant!

  5. It is not surprising that the Web.com tour players hit it longer because they will have a greater proportion of younger, more athletic players. And the few from that tour who perform well in the rest of their game (putting!), can make it onto the regular tour and be successful there. Also, only driving distance is considered here – I’d be curious about driving accuracy as well.

    Btw, the amateur question is answered in the actual report as well: 245 yds for handicap <6, 225 for 6-12, 199 for 13-20 and 182 for handicap 21+. Of course, WRXers outhit our averages by quite a bit :).

  6. Since the USGA and R&A have put all the limits (such as COR, MOI) on the club and golf ball characteristics. There is really “no room” for any major technology advancement. And all the pros have their equipment “optimized” for their swings (such as launch conditions, back spins). No wonder why the driving distance has not changed since 2003.

    However, for armatures, they just grab the club off the shelves and few of them have done a quality fitting process. Chances are, they may find a new club that has less spin help them hit the ball further, and they think the technology is truly awesome. The reality is, they just didn’t the “right club”

  7. Here is an interesting question. How has the improvement of golf technology helped increase the driving distances and scoring average of the amature golfer over the same time period?

    • It hasn’t, for a couple of reasons.
      One, the average guy hits down on the ball too much with the driver. He never gets that high launch low spin knuckleball that is the key to distance. Too much spin equals short and crooked.
      Two, low spinning recreational balls have been around for 40 years now, so the ball the average guy plays hasn’t changed to the degree the Tour ball has. If anything. the recreational ball of today probably spins more than those of the past due to softer cover blends.

      • Wrong. If you use the harder ball of any kind, the spin decreases dramatically. However! This also doesn’t mean that the distances will increase – because now, if the Am spins the ball too low and can’t get the launch higher, the ball hits the deck too soon with no carry and we’re back to square one.

        • How long have you been playing? I’ve been at this since 1973.
          The harder the ball, the easier it is to launch higher. Go find an old balata Titleist and a Top Flite XL and compare them with your wedge. You’ll see.
          The differences in spin rates between the tour level balls and the recreational balls of today are nowhere near as dramatic as the example I mentioned above.
          Clever pen name, BTW.

    • Being a Senior golfer that plays a lot of walk on as a single golf I see young guys (35 and under) driving the ball over 300 yards almost weekly..but at least 85% of these kids cannot hit a green or make a 15 foot put if you put a $100 bill on the green or in the hole…

    • Think it has to do with pin placements, and the quality of golf courses. Additionally, the Web.com tour is filled with a bunch of long players, but not always great putters. (there are always exceptions to the rule)

    • As someone who played on the Web.com Tour, I can tell you it’s mostly because of the way they setup their courses. Rough length is almost negligible, and they make the courses dry and firm. All of that contributes to lower scoring averages, too.

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