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USGA and R&A publish findings from joint Distance Insights Project

Wednesday 05, Feb 2020


The Distance Insights Report conducted by The R&A and the USGA, provides comprehensive research and analysis on the contributors to, and long-term impacts of, hitting distance in golf.

After extensive stakeholder research, the report features more than 100 years of data, informed by a library of 56 supporting documents. It is accompanied by a 15-page conclusions paper from the governing bodies that summarises their perspectives on the long-term implications for the sport. 


Key findings

Key findings of the Distance Insights Project include:

  • There is a 100-year trend of hitting distance increases in golf, as well as a corresponding increase in the length of golf courses, across the game globally. The R&A and the USGA believe this continuing cycle is detrimental to the game’s long-term future.
  • The inherent strategic challenge presented by many golf courses can be compromised, especially when those courses have not or cannot become long enough to keep up with increases in the hitting distances of the golfers who play from their longest tees. This can lead to a risk of many courses becoming less challenging, or obsolete. 
  • Increased hitting distance can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.
  • If courses continue to lengthen, it is at odds with growing societal concerns about the use of water, chemicals and other resources, and adds significantly to the overall cost of course management.




Pivotal moments

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We believe we have reached a pivotal moment in golf. The publication of this report is highly significant. The impact of long-term hitting distance increases on some of golf’s essential elements are now clear – including changing the strategic challenge of the sport, altering the balance of skills needed to be successful and risking courses being less challenging or obsolete.” 

“This is not about the last few years or the next few years but rather about the long-term future of the game,” said Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA. “This report clearly shows a consistent increase in hitting distance and golf course lengths over the last 100-plus years. These increases have had a profound impact on costs to build, modify and operate golf courses.  We believe this problem will continue unless this cycle is brought to an end”

Broad review

No solutions have been determined as yet. 

The R&A and The USGA will now enter the next phase of their work by assessing potential solutions that can help end the cycle of increased distance. It is expected the main topic for research and assessment will be potential changes in the Equipment Rules, along with further enquiry into the effects of course design, conditions and setup on hitting distance.

With this background in mind, a broad review of both clubs and balls will be conducted to understand and assess a full range of options for addressing these issues relating to hitting distance. 

Without limiting the scope of topics that may be considered, this review is expected to include the following:

  • The review of overall conformance specifications for both clubs and balls, including specifications that both directly and indirectly affect hitting distances. It is not currently intended to consider revising overall equipment specifications in a way that would produce substantial reductions in hitting distances at all levels of the game.
  • The assessment of the potential use of a Local Rule option specifying the use of reduced-distance equipment. Such an option could be available as a choice at all levels of play for competitions, courses and individual players.
  • Guidance on the availability of short enough forward tees and the appropriate tee-to-hole playing distances for golfers of all levels.
  • Several other topics including equipment testing processes, potential guidance on how design, agronomy and set-up can affect hitting distance, and others.


The report also touches on environmental concerns shared by the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association and its members relating to the Environment, stating that the pressure to protect threatened species and their habitats is growing in many regions, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for golf courses.

Well-managed courses have proven to be exemplary stewards of wildlife and habitats, which can be accomplished in various ways, including by converting maintained turf where the game is currently played into native flora and fauna areas, and well managed out-of-play areas.


Next Steps

Following the release of the report, the USGA and R&A have also outlined that the next steps will be to develop and assess potential future solutions to pursue these objectives - Recognising that this is a complex subject involving many issues, perspectives and interests, and understanding that this assessment should not focus on player-related factors that contribute to increased distance, such as improved athleticism and swing techniques, for the desire to improve is integral to the game and is to be encouraged. 

Accordingly, the USGA and R&A expect the main topic for research and assessment to be potential changes in the Equipment Rules, along with further inquiry into the effects of course design, conditions and set-up on hitting distance. 


Read the Reports 

In addition to their 15-page conclusions report, the USGA and R&A have published a 102-page summary of Distance Insights Project research.

Distance Insights Conclusions

The conclusions from the Distance Insights project are published in a paper titled “Conclusions from the Distance Insights Project: The Implications of Hitting Distance in Golf.”


Distance Insights Report

The results of the Distance Insights project are documented in a report titled “Distance Insights Report.”  This report summarizes the research and findings contained in the 56 reports in the Distance Insights Library.


Images and Reports courtesy The R&A