AUGUSTA, Ga. – For those hoping to see the implementation of a special Masters golf ball, prepare to be disappointed.
Tournament chairman Fred Ridley called the distance-controlling measure a “last resort” on Wednesday during his pre-tournament press conference at Augusta National, but he added that he’s confident and encouraged by recent steps by golf’s governing bodies to rein in increasing distances and keep golf’s classic designs like Augusta National relevant.
“I know there have been varying opinions among players and others, other stakeholders in golf, and that's really how the process should work,” Ridley said. “… We are concerned about that issue. Growth of the game is a big issue. But our position would be to support the governing bodies, and then if there is no action taken, for whatever reason, then we need to look at other options with regard to our golf course and what we can do to continue to challenge these great golfers and maintain the design integrity that was initially adopted by Mr. [Bobby] Jones and Mr. [Alister] MacKenzie.”
The USGA and R&A released an update to their Distance Insights Project last February in which they warned that continued increase of distance in golf would “have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game.” They also announced that over the next year or so they will discuss related distance topics with golf’s stakeholders, including equipment manufacturers, and at that point determine proper action, which could include rule changes.
“We just think this continuing cycle of golf courses having to expand is detrimental to the game,” USGA CEO Mike Davis told Golf Channel two months ago. “This is not an emergency. We don’t have a crisis. This didn’t happen overnight. But we are looking to solve a problem that we believe is in the best interest of all golfers.”
The upcoming review period is expected to include the potential of a local rule that would specify the use of equipment that would decrease distance, since the governing bodies stated that they have no intentions of restricting distance gains at lower levels of the game, including the recreational level.
At the Masters, though, the talk of bifurcation has been prevalent in recent years as the club has lengthened several holes, including most recently the par-4 fifth, which was lengthened 40 yards to 495 in 2019. The current yardage of the course is 7,475 yards.
Most players have been hesitant to sound the alarm on distance, and understandably so when one considers the deals many of them have. Even with Bryson DeChambeau carrying fairway bunkers with ease at Augusta National, it seemed as if few were concerned.
"You know, if it wasn't Bryson it would be somebody else," Patrick Reed said. "He's doing it now, but there's going to be more guys that come out here that are going to be able to hit it forever, and at the end of the day the great thing about this golf course is you have everyone from long hitters to short hitters that have won here, guys that hit fades to draws. Whoever is in complete control of their golf game and who can think themselves around the golf course and who can pull off not just the shots but also make the putts when they need to."
Added Mike Weir: "I think sports evolves. All sports evolve. There's better athletes in every sport you watch. You watch NHL Network and you watch the classic games versus today's game and the evolution of the players, it's quite remarkable there too. You watch Connor McDavid skate compared to the guys back in the day. ... I don't know about roll-back. Again, I'm with athletes evolve and we figure it out. The teaching's better, the equipment's better, just everything's better. Agronomy is better, so it's more challenging. The golf courses can be more difficult through agronomy and everything.
"I think we'll figure out a way to have a nice healthy balance with the evolution of golf courses and the power game that the game is."
Ridley was confident that an acceptable resolution would be reached in the near future, though he said his club is prepared for anything.
“As I have stated in the past each year, we look at every hole of our golf course,” Ridley said. “Fortunately, we do have the ability to make any number of changes to protect the integrity of the course. At the same time, we hope there will not come a day when the Masters or any golf championship will have to be played at 8,000 yards to achieve that objective.
“This is an important crossroads, so we will continue to urge the governing bodies and all interested parties to put forward thoughtful solutions as soon as possible.”
A Masters ball, though?
"I won't be surprised if they ever do it," Fred Couples said. "But am I surprised they haven't? I don't really even know how you would do that, but I am sure if they did, everyone would still come and play."