R&A And USGA Propose Competition Ball Under A "Model Local Rule"
After years of study and feedback, the organizations intend to change new testing conditions aimed at elite players. Driver faces to be spared.
As of Tuesday, March 14th at 9 a.m. ET, no one can credibly say the R&A or USGA failed to listen. Or suggest the two deliberate organizations stubbornly ruled out the most sensible compromise after years of avoiding a tough decision.
Wait. This is the world of golf!
The sport tiptoeing around the whining of a few neurotic millionaires who insist on socializing the costs of selling distance gains as the key to world happiness, all while stashing away record profits rarely reinvested back into the same sport that enriches them. (I know, I know, but the billions they spend on R&D!)
And then there are golf’s professional players, who increasingly push the boundaries of the rules while operating blissfully free of concern for the greater good.
Let the complaining begin!
In a carefully-worded release following years of research, study and feedback, the rulemakers have chosen a narrow path to stem the pursuit of distance gains that have expanded golf’s footprint. Perhaps bolstered by scant evidence of golf’s new-found popularity having any ties to watching an adult male finish 332 yards from the tee instead of a mere 314, the organizations have proposed a “Model Local Rule” option for “elite competitions” requiring players to use balls tested under more restrictive launch conditions.
The rule would become an option for competitions starting in January, 2026.
The governing bodies appear to be attempting to maintain a healthy, interesting and rational skill-based sport.
Whether their proposal accomplishes this will be up to the numbers. The details, announced at 9 a.m. Eastern Time Tuesday:
“The R&A and USGA have proposed a Model Local Rule (MLR) that gives competition organizers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions to address the impacts of hitting distance in golf.”
“The MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and, if adopted, will have no impact on recreational golf.”
Golf equipment manufacturers were notified Monday of the proposal “following the Equipment Rulemaking Procedures established by the governing bodies in 2011.”
Manufacturers and golf stakeholders can provide feedback until August 2023.
The organizations are no longer considering the use of launch conditions that are optimized for each individual golf ball model to evaluate conformance.
They are also no longer “pursuing a reduction in the characteristic time limit in the existing Equipment Standards.”
Also off the table “at this time”: a moment of inertia limit of elite competition drivers.
Golf balls that conform to the proposed Model Local Rule must not exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards—plus three yards tolerance—at modified “Actual Launch Conditions” (ALC) with a 127 m.p.h. clubhead speed and based on a calibration set-up for 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2220 rpm).
In making the announcement, the organizations suggest these settings and the subsequent changes in ball design necessary to achieve conformity would “reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds.”
This puts the rollback under 5% based on current distances to top male golfers.
In reporting the story for Golf Digest, Mike Stachura made a higher estimate: “Given that at elite speeds, every mile per hour increase in clubhead speed equates to approximately 2.5-3 yards in total distance, increasing the test speed by 7 miles per hour could result in a distance loss of about 20 yards or more.”
Time and testing will tell, but the notion of a tournament ball has long been considered a non-starter to previous leadership regimes. For some, this will be seen as a drastic, de-unifying compromise in a debate that’s carried on for decades. Many more will say it’s not enough.
“At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimise the impact on a flourishing recreational game,” said the R&A’s Martin Slumbers. “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.”
While pesky details on the design, presentation and enforcement of the Model Local Rule ball usage are expected to be haggled over, the R&A’s Chief Technology Officer Steve Otto says that making such a ball will be within the abilities of those in the lucrative golf ball business.
“It can be done,” said Otto.
In the nearly twenty-one years since the organizations drew a line in the sand only to watch as driving distances have skyrocketed—including a four percent gain across all professional tours in 2022—the overdue change in testing and philosophy was acknowledged by the USGA CEO Mike Whan.
“Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years,” he said. “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.”
In early conversations with those on the inside of deliberations, the organizations are confident the MLR ball will be adopted in all serious competition and that enforcement will not be very difficult.
“The MLR we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game,” said Whan. “We are taking the next steps in this process, guided first and foremost by doing what’s right by the entire game.”
Slumbers points to the Conforming Ball List as a safety net of sorts against players potentially using a ball that would not pass the proposed new testing limits. It will be incumbent on manufacturers to clearly delineate the look of such balls from what is the non-elite ball sold to the 70 million or so golfers worldwide. And nothing in the rule prevents companies from selling the elite competition ball, either.
But given how several companies prefer peddling a premium ball to the general public based on what pros use, their cooperation remains very much an open question.
Reactions to watch for in the coming days:
The position of the PGA Tour, PGA of America, LPGA Tour, DP World Tour, LIV and Augusta National Golf Club. The rule would be optional, meaning some or all of the organizations may not adopt the change, if passed, in 2026. But an endorsement from Augusta National would offset anticipated groveling from one or both PGA’s.
The stances of Acushnet, Callaway/Topgolf, Taylormade and Bridgestone. With the largest share of the market and most of the golf ball patents, Acushnet’s longstanding policy has been to resist anything threatening the cash cow. As the market leader, the MLR adoption could even strengthen their sales share barring a wildly unlikely R&D or marketing mishap. Or just excessive grievance leading to incomprehensibly bad decision-making.
The reactions of professional golfers who may be so insulated from reality that they’re unaware how absurd they will sound complaining about losing 5% of their current distance while not even able to finish competitions in a timely manner, a direct off shoot of golf’s decades long expansion to avoid taking this stand.
Influencer outreach in defending company positions built around convincing the world of what a joy it is to purchase what they and the pros get for free.
The views of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Both have advocated for a ball that spins more and does not fly as far.
Insights gleaned from the 2022 Annual Driving Distance Report released Tuesday and aggregating data reported by seven professional men’s and women’s tours worldwide.
And of course, what readers of The Quadrilateral think. Your takes and votes, please!
Thank you. I'm all for bringing skill back into the game, and maintaining the architectural integrity of classic courses. I hope they go forward with the plan and also address the size of the 460 cc driver. Bring back shot making skill and reduce the influence of power in the game, while allowing those with gifted power an advantage, but not as much.
I remember a tour player saying they'd much rather hit a 9 iron from the rough than a 5 iron from the fairway.
That's not good for golf.
Implemented in 2026? Surely a typo.