Governing Bodies Confirm Golf Ball Bifurcation Plans To Reduce Hitting Distances

The R&A and USGA have proposed a Model Local Rule for 2026 where elite players would use different golf balls to recreational golfers

Rory McIlroy hits a drive
If implemented, the new Model Local Rule would mean the longest hitters would lose around 14-15 yards on average
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golf's governing bodies have confirmed that they have proposed a way of bifurcation where elite golfers use different golf balls to recreational golfers.

A new Model Local Rule has been proposed for January 2026 where competition organisers could enforce it to ensure competitors play golf balls that go shorter than the current legal models on the market used by pros and amateurs alike.

The change would come to the clubhead speed of its testing procedure, upping from 120mph to 127mph yet keeping the 'Overall Distance Standard', ie the limit of how far the ball can go, at 317 yards plus a three-yard tolerance. This would mean that all current balls would be non-conforming at the 'elite' level and new tour/elite balls would not travel as far.

"The modified testing set-up in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds," the R&A and USGA says.

The R&A and USGA say that increased hitting distances "threaten golf’s long-term sustainability and undermines the core principle that a broad and balanced set of playing skills" that should "remain the primary determinant of success in golf."

Rory McIlroy hits a drive

Rory McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in driving distance this season with an average of 326.6 yards

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The report also found that the overall trend of golf courses becoming longer has "adverse consequences" surrounding increased cost and time to play, limiting the advancement of sustainability efforts and reducing the challenge of courses and risking them becoming obsolete.

Both governing bodies notified equipment manufacturers yesterday, and the industry will be able to provide feedback on the proposal until 14th August 2023.

The governing bodies have stressed that the MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and, if adopted, will have no impact on recreational golf. The testing procedures for non-tour/elite balls would remain the same. This means that bifurcation would be official and the elite players would play different golf balls to recreational players.

Augusta National 13th Hole

The 13th at Augusta National, seemingly a critical hole in golf's distance debate, was finally lengthened ahead of the 2023 Masters after some long-hitting pros were able to cut the corner of the dogleg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Their new Annual Driving Distance Report found a 4% average year-over-year increase in hitting distance across all seven tours analysed, with all but the Japan Golf Tour and LPGA Tour reporting their longest values on record. The Korn Ferry Tour recorded the highest annual hitting average across all tours in 2022, at 307.8 yards.

A Model Local Rule is a specific rule that tournament organisers can choose to use. It could be that Augusta National chooses to use it for The Masters and the R&A and USGA choose to use it for The Open and US Open but the PGA Tour doesn't. It would likely come into play across all professional tours, however, otherwise players would have to practise with different profiles of golf balls for different events.

R&A CEO Martin Slumbers:

“We have worked closely with the golf industry throughout this process and taken time to listen carefully to their perspectives and reflect on the helpful and constructive feedback they have provided.

"At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimise the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses.

"This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal.” 

USGA CEO Mike Whan:

“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years.

"It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances. Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon.

"The MLR we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game. We are taking the next steps in this process, guided first and foremost by doing what’s right by the entire game.”

Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news team as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as five Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays off of a six handicap. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2

Hybrids: Titleist 816 H1

Irons: Mizuno MP5 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Srixon Z Star XV