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Nicklaus eager to help USGA rein in golf ball distance

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus heard words that warmed his heart over dinner Sunday with USGA executive director Mike Davis.

He said Davis pledged to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“I'm happy to help you,” Nicklaus told Davis. “I've only been yelling at you for 40 years.”

Nicklaus said he first confronted the USGA in 1977 over ball and distance issues.

In a meeting with reporters at the Honda Classic Tuesday, Nicklaus basically blamed the ball for the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to soaring costs to play the game.

Nicklaus brought up the ball when asked about slow play.

“The golf ball is the biggest culprit of that,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus said the great distance gains players enjoy today is stretching courses, and that’s slowing play. He singled out one company when asked about push back from manufacturers over proposals to roll back the distance balls can fly.

“You can start with Titleist,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus would like to see the USGA and R&A roll back the distance today’s ball flies by 20 percent. He said that would put driving distances back to what they were in the mid-‘90s, but he believes Titleist is the manufacturer most opposed to any roll back.

“Titleist controls the game,” Nicklaus said. “And I don't understand why Titleist would be against it. I know they are, but I don't understand why you would be against it. They make probably the best product. If they make the best product, whether it's 20 percent shorter ... What difference would it make? Their market share isn't going to change a bit. They are still going to dominate the game."

A Titleist representative declined to comment when reached by Golf Channel.

“For the good of the game, we need to play this game in about three-and-a-half hours on a daily basis," Nicklaus said. "All other sports on television and all other sports are played in three hours, usually three hours or less – except for a five-set tennis match – but all the other games are played in that.

“It's not about [Titleist]. It's about the people watching the game and the people that are paying the tab. The people paying the tab are the people that are buying that television time and buying all the things that happen out there. Those are the people that you've got to start to look out for.

“And the growth of the game of golf, it's not going to grow with the young kids. Young kids don't have five hours to play golf. Young kids want instant gratification.”

Davis said last month that increased distance is not "necessarily good for the game." R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers added earlier this month in relation to the same topic, "We have probably crossed that line."

Nicklaus said he would like to see golf courses and golf balls rated, so that different courses could be played with different rated balls. For example, a ball rolled back “70 percent” would fit courses rated for that ball. He said players could still play those courses with a 100 percent ball, but handicapping could be factored into the game so players could compete using differently rated balls.

“And so then if a guy wants to play with a 90 or 100 percent golf ball, it makes it shorter and faster for him to play,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus believes rating balls like that would make shorter courses more playable again. He believes creating differently rated balls would also make more money for ball manufacturers.

“Then you don't have any obsolete golf courses.” Nicklaus said. “Right now we only have one golf course that's not obsolete, as I said earlier [Augusta National], in my opinion.”

Nicklaus said Davis seemed to like the rated ball idea.

“The USGA was all over that, incidentally,” Nicklaus said.