Initiate Defcon 5.
If you’re Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade or another equipment manufacturer, the USGA and R&A’s release of their Distance Insights Project today triggers a warning system.
No, golf’s caretakers did not propose any restraints on balls, clubs or any of the other toys that help create distance in the game, but the project’s findings promise to heighten manufacturer readiness for incoming threats.
“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end,” the project concludes.
Boom! There it is.
The USGA and R&A are finally declaring war on unrelenting distance gains.
Of course, they don’t put it in those indelicate terms, but make no mistake, there’s a battle brewing as they seek to find a peaceful resolution to what manufacturers won’t even concede is a problem.
Expect manufacturers to do more than fortify their defenses. Expect them to go on the offensive.
The Distance Insight Project is a complex and detailed report, with a noble aim, to protect the game’s competitive integrity.
USGA CEO Mike Davis and R&A CEO Martin Slumbers know diplomatic skills are pivotal to finding a solution to the distance issue that won’t crack the game’s foundation. They want to get this right, but it won’t be easy.
“I think the important thing Martin and I both want to get across is this is a long-term process, a multi-year process,” Davis said. “This is a collaborative process. For this to work, it’s got to have the golf industry, as a whole, engaged.”
Make no mistake, manufacturers will be fully engaged when the report lands on their desks today.
They won’t be able to read Page 3 without thinking they smell steam building in a USGA or R&A silo.
While the governing bodies went out of their way to explain distance gains are more complex than technological advances, they literally serve notice to manufacturers on Page 3 of the report.
No, the USGA and R&A won’t be asking players to become less athletic, less strong or less skilled, but they will be reviewing ball and club conformance specs. They will be looking at ramping up their testing protocols.
“We expect the main topic of research and assessment to be potential changes in the equipment rules, along with further inquiry into the effects of course design, conditions and setup on hitting distance,” the report states.
Distance issues, the report finds, are adversely affecting pace of play, as well as golf course design, with environmental issues and economic pressures accompanying pressures to renovate.
“We have a trend here we just don’t think is healthy for the game,” Davis said.
What manufacturers think is healthy for the game is completely different than what the governing bodies think.
While there is a lot more to the Distance Insights Project than whether technology is detrimentally altering the fundamental nature of shot making, that’s really where the battle lines will be drawn.
It’s where the most vital collaboration will be brokered or blown up.
It’s the unavoidable showdown that has kept the USGA and R&A from tackling this distance issue for so many years.
How do Davis and Slumbers get manufacturers to agree to curb their R&D departments, to stop innovating in ways that both elite and recreational players enjoy?
How do they get manufacturers to agree with their basic conclusion, that unrelenting distance gains are hurting the game?
“I suppose the real answer is to have somebody refute our data as just not correct, or that we’ve missed something,” Davis said.
Davis doesn’t see that happening.
“We want to work together with everybody, and we see this as an opportunity,” he said. “We really want to work with manufacturers. We really want to have their input. We want to hear from the recreational players. We want to hear from the elite game, owners and operators. We’ve been clear about that.
“I don’t think anybody on our side, or the R&A’s side, thinks this is going to be easy, but we are just guided by what we think is going to be the right thing in the long term.”
Slumbers is confident there’s common ground to work out a solution.
“I’m very impressed with golf and the way it’s run,” Slumbers said. “There are very serious people who think very seriously about long-term serious problems. It’s in all of our interests for the game to become more successful.”
And to avoid Defcon 1.