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?