Speaking at the North American Golf Innovation Symposium in Vancouver, USGA’s executive director Mike Davis floated the idea of a “variable-distance golf ball” in the game’s future, echoing a 2011 suggestion from Ping chairman John A. Solheim.

But first, Davis doubled down on the USGA’s claim that distance isn’t increasing on Tour.

“Despite what some people write, we’ve seen roughly 13 years in a row where distance at the elite level is hardly moving, which is where we wanted to get it to,” he told GolfDigest.com. “This notion of people saying that the USGA and the R&A had their heads in the sand, well, this is not our data and you can extrapolate it however you want it, but the stark reality is it’s hardly moving.”

So it’s interesting, in light of Davis’ firm argument that distances have plateaued, that he’s talking about limited-flight balls. But Davis admits, too, that distance increases (presumably prior to the organization’s early 2000s action), have substantially affected the game.

“Anybody is hard-pressed to say that as distance has increased in the last 100 years that that’s been good for the game. We all want to hit the ball farther. We get that. But distance is all relative. When you think about the billions and billions of dollars that have been spent to change golf courses, and you say, Has that been good for the game?

“Is the fact that Shinnecock Hills went from 5,500 yards to 7,500 yards, what has that done good for the game? It’s increased the expenses to maintain it. It’s cost us time to walk an extra 2,000 yards. So you have to say, What has that actually done?”

Davis rightfully connects the dots and answers his own question with a variety of “not much that’s good for the game.” But his begging the question seems to be an indictment of the USGA for letting the horses get out of the barn during the titanium age of the 90s.

Anyway, Davis closed with the example of Dustin Johnson playing 6,500-yard Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, site of four U.S. Opens prior to 1908.

“Throw him an 80 percent golf ball and go play the back tees, and guess what? It would be a great experience for him, and he would be able to play this wonderful historic golf course that by and large he can’t play anymore.”

A great experience? Sure. But he could already go do that with hickory clubs and a McIntyre ball. If there’s not going to be a rollback for some (or all) professional events, what’s the point, beyond creating another avenue for recreational golf?

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  1. A great experience? Sure. But he could already go do that with hickory clubs and a McIntyre ball. If there’s not going to be a rollback for some (or all) professional events, what’s the point, beyond creating another avenue for recreational golf?

  2. I don’t think golf will ever be easy. I also think this is much to do about nothing.
    I could see where leaving the ball where it is now would be good but making a ball that doesn’t fly as far or spin differently would be a big problem for pros. I don’t think it would react the same with driver as it would with irons it would screw up the pro game and make it a mess to watch on TV.
    All golf equipment has changed over the last 25 years not just the ball shafts go from steel to carbon fiber drivers go from wood to titanium and carbon fiber. Those are bigger jumps than the 100 years before that.
    The thing is for all the super GI irons that hit the ball farther and higher no pros play them. They still play steel shafted blades and cavity backs that are pretty much the same as they have been for a long time. They want control not distance. It’s the modern golfers that hit the ball farther not just their equipment. I don’t see the weekend golfer crushing 350 yard drives. The USGA is right to set limits but backing up the ball seems like the wrong idea.

  3. It’s the golf courses that are rewarding the long drivers. If the course was set up with increasingly longer rough at the 300+ mark, we would see more shotmaking with a greater variety of clubs. Maybe try it on some holes and allow drives to run out on other holes. The current setups allow unlimited drives on 14 holes per round.

  4. What I learned from Golfwrx: the USGA is ruining the game by handcuffing technology AND ruining it by not handcuffing technology. The USGA is making the game too hard AND too easy.

    There is no such thing as an obsolete golf course. The person who wins is the one who beats the field by at least one stroke. How far they drive the ball and what club they hit into the green is not relevant.

    If Dustin has to hit driver – 4 iron, a shorter hitter will be hitting driver – 3 wood, or possibly laying up. If a “limited flight” ball decreases distance disproportionately for longer hitters, that could (and would) easily be argued an unfair penalty for those skilled in that area of the game. (Should great bunker players be penalized for being above average bunker players?) At that point, might as well forget driving altogether and play par-3 courses. The pace of play would improve greatly.

  5. A great experience? Sure. But he could already go do that with hickory clubs and a McIntyre ball. If there’s not going to be a rollback for some (or all) professional events, what’s the point, beyond creating another avenue for recreational golf?

  6. How can you trust a “limited flight” ball to do what you want it to do under the gun on the 18th hole of the masters or your club championship. The answer is simple… You can’t trust it at all. Also the whole “walking an extra 2000 yards” being a problem I strongly disagree. Sure it may take an extra hour and a half to play but you are being active for a longer period of time too. With a nation that has been struggling with weight and also seeing most “weekend” golfers being 300 pounds plus I say it’s a good thing to walk more. The usga would be doing more to kill this sport by making it “boring”. Yes the ball and driver have advanced greatly with technology but that’s a good thing showing how far human innovation has come in the past 50 years. As well as showing if you workout and stay in good shape you will see distance and accuracy gains. It’s like you are punishing these guys for putting in hours and hours in the gym every day. I support most of the “proposed” rule changes, but this is absurd. It would be like apple or Microsoft saying “our computers are getting to fast and advanced” we are going to limit everyone to dial up Internet and Windows 98. This is just lunacy. Plus the manufactures and tour players would never support this. We Could see a the start of a players union for the tour, which could lead to a lockout. Plus, is this fair for Zach Johnson and the “shorter” guys on tour? Dustin and the long guys are an exception. Tour average off the tee is 290 yards. I don’t see a problem here. Usga needs to do like Charlie Beljan pop a Xanax and relax.

  7. He has the data, but to someone who watches a lot of golf, it certainly seems like there are more tour pros hitting the ball 300 yards today than there were in 2003. Other than the US Open, you never see pros hitting 3 or 4 irons into par 4’s.
    A shorter flying ball for tour professionals would make the game more fun to watch and after all, professional golf is entertainment. The NFL changes its rules every year for safety and to make the game more enjoyable for fans to watch.

  8. Two reasons that a reduced distance ball appeals to me:

    1. I would like to see elite players tested on hitting longer irons into par-4’s.

    2. The idea of moving up a couple of tees and playing a shorter course in less time has merit.

    • If you want a shorter and quicker game, go play a par 3 course or just play 9 holes. Your round wouldn’t be that much quicker just by playing forward tees, you still have to play the ball all the way through to the pin and you would still be limited to the speed of the group ahead of you.

  9. you’ll continue to see the trend of the guy who hits the the farthest off the tee win over and over. its that simple. course could be 12,000 yards long or 5000 and the same people would still win.