Jack Nicklaus: Reducing Hitting Distances 'Very Important' For Golf's Future

The 18-time major champion has once again called for the governing bodies to roll the ball back

Jack Nicklaus: Reducing Hitting Distances "Very Important" For Golf's Future
(Image credit: GETTY)

Taking action against the mammoth hitting distances regularly seen in the professional game is “very important” for the future of golf, says Jack Nicklaus. 

While it’s widely accepted that driver technology has just about reached its limit under the current equipment regulations, sports science has progressed to a point that a large proportion of the current crop could be classed as athletes, while launch monitors provide what seems like an endless stream of data designed to help players squeeze out every last yard.

The result has left a number of iconic venues unfit for purpose in their original guise, with regular lengthening the only way to ensure they remain playable. It’s something Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley addressed last year, saying he hoped “there will not come a day when The Masters or any other golf championship will have to be played at 8,000 yards”.

But this is not a new issue. In fact, Nicklaus has been banging this drum since the 1970s, even to his own detriment as one of the longer hitters of his generation. 

“I said, ‘Guys, look at this now [the ‘70s] because this is going to be a problem’,” he explained to Gary Williams on his 5 Clubs Podcast. “They didn’t pay much attention to a 30-year-old and they’re certainly not paying much attention to an 80-year-old."

The 18-time major champion is one of many advocates of a rollback which will decrease the distance a ball can travel even under optimal conditions. And now that the governing bodies are keen to establish golf at the forefront of sustainability in sport, bifurcation is a possibility being researched as part of the Distance Insights Project. But progress has been too slow for Nicklaus' liking.

He said: “I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re slow about reacting to this issue. They say they put a line in the sand but that line in the sand keeps getting wider. They keep crossing it.

“For all concerned, for the ball to come back to bring a lot of things back into perspective is very important for the game of golf. I think something will get done, it’s just how long will it take for them to research the problem?”

Launched in 2017, the R&A and USGA didn’t release key findings from the first phase of their investigation into hitting distances until February 2020. Among other things, they indicated that golf’s current heading is at odds with societal concerns about the use of water, chemicals and other resources, while an over-reliance on distance is diminishing the importance of other skills.

Despite that, the only tangible regulation change to this point has been to reduce the maximum driver length from 48 to 46 inches, with the next update scheduled for March of this year.

Asked if there was a possibility in the future that Muirfield Village could be lengthened to 8,000 yards to keep scores in check at The Memorial, Nicklaus added: "I hope not. I'd have to buy all the houses around me."

Andrew Wright
Freelance News Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he decided to go freelance and now covers a variety of topics for Golf Monthly. 

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Mizuno mp32 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x