USGA, R&A: Ever-increasing distance 'taking golf in the wrong direction'
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According to the sport's two governing bodies, golf has gone too far.

The USGA and R&A released their highly anticipated Distance Insights Project on Tuesday, highlighting how the distance surge in golf has become detrimental to the game's long-term future.

"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 report states in its 15-page conclusions section.

"Longer distances, longer courses, playing from longer tees, and longer times to play are taking golf in the wrong direction and are not necessary to make golf challenging, enjoyable, or sustainable in the future."

The two-year study compiled data from 57 reports around the industry and appears to be the first step in finally tackling golf's distance problem, which governing bodies warned would "have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game," nearly 20 years ago, according to Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner.

The report outlines multiple areas in which increasing distance is hurting golf, most notably with regard to course design and intended challenges dating back to the sport's inception.

"Increased hitting distance can lead to a reduction in the variety, length, and creativity of shot types needed on such courses, and to holes more often being overpowered by distance, as well as to an increased emphasis on the importance of distance at the expense of accuracy and other skills," the report stated.

It continued: "The result is also that an increasing number of such courses, both widely renowned and less well-known, are at risk of becoming less challenging or ultimately obsolete for those who play from their longest tees - a serious loss for the game."

Many of the world's most iconic courses can no longer be used to test the game's best players. Additionally, course owners are spending millions of dollars on renovation projects in attempts to challenge the modern player.

"We just think this continuing cycle of golf courses having to expand is detrimental to the game," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "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."

So what will come from the Distance Insights Report?

The "Next Steps" section identifies two possible remedies: The potential use of a Local Rule and a review of current conformance specifications for equipment.

The implementation of a Local Rule would "allow committees that conduct golf competitions or oversee individual courses to choose, by Local Rule authorized under the Rules of Golf, whether and when to require that such equipment be used."

The Masters, for example, could potentially introduce a limited-flight ball intended only for play at Augusta National.

By reviewing the current conformance specifications of equipment, the governing bodies can determine if changes are necessary "to help mitigate the continuing distance increases" without the intention of reducing hitting distances across all levels of the game.

But don't expect any overnight rule changes. The report states a window of 9-12 months is needed to gather input from manufacturers and other stakeholders regarding potential equipment-based changes.

"This is a long-term process; this is a multi-year process, a collaborative process," Davis said. "For this to work, it has to have the golf industry, as a whole, engaged. Through a lot of data research, we have determined there is a problem that golf collectively needs to solve."

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USGA, R&A: Ever-increasing distance 'taking golf in the wrong direction'
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