On the heels of a joint report issued by the USGA and R&A on increased distance gains across several professional tours, Titleist issued a response that took a closer look at the numbers and called into question whether the findings require sweeping action.
Titleist has been at the forefront of the distance debate, thanks in large part to former CEO Wally Uihlein's public battle with USGA chief executive Mike Davis over Davis' comments that equipment gains have led to increased golf course footprints - and subsequent maintenance costs.
While the joint study found that driving distance increased more than 3 yards on average over the last year, Titleist's response put those numbers under a microscope from their side of the ever-evolving distance debate.
"In any given year there are variables that impact distance, and any movement as in 2017 is not suddenly indicative of a harmful trend," said David Maher, CEO and president of Titleist's parent company, Acushnet. "We continue to believe equipment innovation has benefitted golfers at all levels, and our analysis of the 2017 Distance Report affirms that the USGA and R&A have effective regulations in place to ensure the game's health and sustainability."
The response notes that, while distance went up on the PGA Tour by more than two yards, gains were only 0.5 yards among 33 events conducted at the same venue in both 2016 and 2017. The eight events held at new venues in 2017 accounted for an eight-yard increase according to Titleist's findings, including a 20.4-yard increase at the U.S. Open from 2016 (Oakmont) to 2017 (Erin Hills).
According to the response, distance at 15 of the 33 PGA Tour events with a common venue actually went down last year, including the Masters where average distance declined 0.4 yards.
"A closer look into the numbers in the report underscores the complexity of making any meaningful year-to-year comparisons," Maher said. "There were several contributing variables in 2017, including course selection and setup, agronomical conditions and weather, which need to be considered when assessing the data."