After years of discussion, months of debate, and days of preparation, the R&A and USGA have confirmed a golf ball rollback - which is due to come into effect from 2028 for professionals and 2030 for amateurs.
Two of the key reasons golf's governing bodies have made the call is to increase the sustainability of the sport as a whole. Longer hitting at the top of the game meant longer golf courses were necessary - meaning more water, more resources, more equipment, more staff and more money to maintain.
The other aspect behind the testing change was to ensure golf courses were being played in ways they were originally designed and not overpowered by the driver-wedge game plan of the modern pro. Increased costs due to moving bunkers or re-designing greens also played a part in the decision.
Confirming the controversial decision on Wednesday, the R&A said: "The R&A and the USGA are guided by an overarching principle to continue to preserve the fundamental elements of golf – protecting the integrity of golf courses, including their overall length, and ensuring that a variety of skills are needed to be successful.
"Longer golf courses require additional resources such as water, the cost of renovating or moving elements like tees and bunkers continues to rise and other long-term impacts have been identified as a result of increased distance. The governing bodies believe that if the sport is to enjoy a sustainable long-term future then these economic and environmental impacts have to be kept under control."
Manufacturer TaylorMade released a statement in response to the decision, with CEO David Abeles saying: "As a brand that prioritizes improving product performance for golfers of all skill levels, the decision to proceed with the golf ball rollback is disappointing.
"While appreciative of the opportunity to have a seat at the table and a voice in the debate, we feel like the rollback is simply disconnected from what golfers believe is best for the game. Throughout the decision-making process, the USGA provided a platform to express our views, provide new data sources, and engage in candid discussions.
"In the spirit of collaboration, we acknowledge and respect the rules that form an integral part of our game’s fabric, even when we disagree with them. Looking ahead, as the new golf ball standards come into effect in 2028 for professional golfers and 2030 for amateurs, we assure everyone, at every level of our game, that we will be well-prepared to navigate these changes."
Titleist also shared a statement, with the Massachusetts-based company making its feelings clear in a succinct trio of sentences.
Titleist said: “We do not believe this is in the best interests of the game. We don’t agree that there is a distance problem in the game. We do believe the game is thriving and hope to support the continued energy and enthusiasm around golf.”
While plenty have not agreed with the governing bodies' call, four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy - who was the longest average driver on the PGA Tour in 2023 - believes the rollback can be a good thing for the sport.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, McIlroy said: "There's all of these environmental factors that come into it - I think that's the biggest reason we should do this. But, also, from a professional that plays the game, I think it'll bring back some skills into the pro game that have maybe been lost.
"I actually think it will make the pro game more entertaining to watch. I think you're going to see a different variety of games succeed, it's not just going to be this bomb and gouge that we see predominantly now when you watch the top level of golf.
"It will bring some of the great, classic courses back into consideration when we go to Major championships. That's why I'm a big proponent of just making the ball go a little shorter."
"I think this change will make the game more skilful again" 💬World number two golfer Rory McIlroy has backed the new changes to rules regarding golf ball specifications which will see a reduce in distance they travel 🏌️👇 pic.twitter.com/XamHvgVhBADecember 6, 2023
Elsewhere, the LPGA said they "do not feel there is a distance issue in the women’s game" but recognize the need for golf's governing bodies to "ensure the game’s continued long-term growth, success and sustainability."
The top Tour in the female game also admitted it was happy to see the USGA and R&A abandon the previously mentioned Model Local Rule in relation to the golf ball.
The LPGA said: "While we do not feel there is a distance issue in the women’s game, we recognize the need for the USGA and the R&A to address complex challenges and ensure the game’s continued long-term growth, success and sustainability.
Statement on The R&A and USGA's Decision to Revise Golf Ball TestingFULL STATEMENT ⬇️ https://t.co/ZfskZtyaDWDecember 6, 2023
"We support the USGA and R&A’s decision to eliminate their previous proposal for implementation of a Model Local Rule related to the golf ball as we believe a unified approach to the game is important for the continued growth of women’s golf.
"Consistency across the game provides the best opportunity for the LPGA to showcase the enormous talent of our athletes and helps ensure the LPGA will continue to be a leader in elevating, inspiring, and advancing girls and women as we have been for more than 73 years."
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour shared its own statement to the rollback decision, saying that while it was "pleased to see a number of our recommendations reflected in this most recent announcement," the increase in testing club-head speed was effectively too much of a penalty when reflecting on its own data and forecasts as to how far pros will likely hit the current ball in 10 years.
A photo posted by on
Prior to the news being confirmed, Tiger Woods was asked for his thoughts on the possibility of a golf ball rollback and whether he was in favour or not at the recent Hero World Challenge. The 15-time Major champion acknowledged that while he would have preferred bifurcation, a rollback had his support.
Woods said: "This has been, I guess, the talk ever since I've been out on Tour. And then to finally see it come to this point where I think both governing bodies who control the rules around the world are going to come to a collaborative understanding of how far - we just don't have enough property anymore.
"So I think that understanding that yeah, we've been hammering the ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career, and here we are. As I told you guys, I've always been for bifurcation. I've always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats."
Bridgestone Golf statement regarding USGA/R&A distance roll back announcement: pic.twitter.com/L290S6nJtXDecember 6, 2023
Woods' golf ball sponsor, Bridgestone Golf, felt the time for talking about what should or should not have been done in regard to distance in the game had passed.
Bridgestone chose to focus the majority of its response statement on spelling out the company's plan of action for the coming years.
Dan Murphy, CEO and President of Bridgestone Golf, said: "While we would prefer that any new rules did not impact recreational players, we believe further commentary is no longer productive. At this point, we need to concentrate on creating conforming products that allow both professionals and amateurs to play their best golf."
Bridgestone went on to say it has "total confidence" in the company's ability to design and manufacture "the world's best golf balls, regardless of the parameters" and will lean on both its "wealth of ball-fitting data" and input from Tiger Woods to try and do so.
Get the Golf Monthly Newsletter
Subscribe to the Golf Monthly newsletter to stay up to date with all the latest tour news, equipment news, reviews, head-to-heads and buyer’s guides from our team of experienced experts.
Jonny Leighfield is our Staff News Writer who joined Golf Monthly just in time for the 2023 Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup. He graduated from the University of Brighton with a degree in Sport Journalism in 2017 and spent almost five years as the sole sports reporter at his local newspaper. An improving golfer who still classes himself as ‘one of the worst players on the Golf Monthly team’, Jonny enjoys playing as much as he can and is hoping to reach his Handicap goal of 18 at some stage. He attended both the 150th and 151st Opens and is keen to make it an annual pilgrimage.
Mizuno ST-Max 230 Fairway Wood Review
Sam De’Ath analyses the experience on offer from the Mizuno ST-Max 230 fairway wood after testing it on the course
By Sam De'Ath Published
‘It’s Been A Long Time Coming' - Anthony Kim Breaks Silence On Pro Golf Return
The American has been confirmed as a season-long wildcard for LIV Golf and will make his debut in Jeddah this week
By Jonny Leighfield Published