On Tuesday, March 14, the USGA and R&A officially announced a proposal to introduce a Model Local Rule (MLR) option for “elite competitions.” The proposal was sent to equipment manufacturers yesterday (on Monday), and they have until August 14, 2023 to provide comment.
You can read the full proposal that was sent to manufacturers here.
Most notably, within the proposal, the USGA and R&A state as follows:
“Specifically, for this proposed MLR, golf balls will be tested for conformance to the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus 3 yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC), namely a clubhead speed of 127 mph and ALC values of 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2220 rpm). Within the current Equipment Rules, all other golf balls will continue to be evaluated using the existing ALC values: 120 mph clubhead speed, 10 degrees and 42 revolutions per second (2520 rpm). The current ODS limit of 317 yards (plus 3 yards tolerance) will remain unchanged.”
The USGA and R&A also said in a press release:
“The MLR is intended for use only in elite competitions and, if adopted, will have no impact on recreational golf…The Overall Distance Standard was established in 1976 as a ball test intended to reflect maximum potential hitting distance by the longest hitters currently playing the game. There is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and hitting distance (further research having been published in the Distance Insights reports). Over the last 20 years hitting distance has increased on average by around one yard per year. 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 proposal also states that the new local golf ball rule would be “available for implementation on 1 January 2026 (at the earliest).”
Addressing growing concerns with driver conformity, especially as it relates to distance and used drivers, the USGA and R&A said this: “While not pursuing a reduction in the CT limit, the USGA and The R&A are concerned that many of today’s drivers exhibit levels of CT creep – meaning their CT values are appropriate at the point of manufacturing/initial use, but can become non-conforming after repeated use, especially at the highest level of competition. This is contrary to the purpose and intent of the Equipment Rules. As such the USGA and The R&A are undertaking a comprehensive investigation of this phenomenon. Further details on this topic will be forthcoming in due course.”
Effectively, the USGA and R&A are proposing bifurcation in relation to the golf ball. Professionals (and elite amateur competitions) would play with a golf ball that flies shorter under the new testing requirements, whereas amateurs would use a golf ball with less restraints.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, golfers from every realm of the sport will ask questions and weigh-in with their opinions, and equipment companies will provide their feedback to the governing bodies. At this point, nothing is certain and the rules have not changed. We likely won’t know for sure until after August 14, at the earliest, what decision has been made.
To see where a PGA Tour player currently stands on the debate, GolfWRX asked tour player Doug Ghim for his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say on the new proposal:
“I’m a little indifferent about it. I do think it makes sense that they’re trying to do it. I think when it comes to the argument that the distance between the longest guy and the shortest guy will still be the same is not quite correct, because it’s exponential. I think guys that hit it the furthest will be affected the most, and the guys who don’t hit it as far, because they don’t spin it as much, won’t be affected as much. Because, I’m assuming if they roll the ball back that it will be spinning more, but at the end of the day, everyone is really good. They changed the groove rule on the irons and guys seems to be hitting it closer from the rough than ever.
“At the end of the day, if you’re a really good player you’re going to figure it out, so I don’t foresee it being a really big deal. I’m sure club manufacturers are not going to be happy, and ball manufacturers are not going to be happy, but, I feel like it’s not going to be as big of a deal as people think. The same guys are still going to be playing well. It’s in order to protect the golf courses that we already have. Obviously land is getting scarcer and scarcer these days, and water is also becoming scarcer. I think there’s no more room to expand courses so they have to roll the ball back.”
But what about tightening the fairways, growing the rough, pinching the fairways at 300+ yards, and increasing green speeds? Doesn’t that effectively limit the need to lengthen courses and give tour players all the challenge they need?
Ghim continued: “I understand that argument, and I feel the same way, but when it comes down to it, when a player decides not to use driver and he uses a 3 wood instead, it’s like playing in the NBA without being able to dunk the ball. At the end of the day, it is a product that we’re trying to sell to people. And the same thing with the designated events.
“It’s all about the product and what fans want to see. And fans don’t want to see Rory hit a 4 iron off the last tee and still be able to hit a 7 iron into the green and win a tournament. They want to force guys to hit driver. When it comes down to that, it makes the product more compelling, it makes it easier for club manufacturers to market their drivers. When I think of certain tournaments, like DJ winning at Oakmont, he striped a drive at the last to win the tournament and I’m sure that sold a lot of TaylorMade drivers. At the end of the day, I see…I asked Jim Furyk the same question when we played in a practice round at Shinnecock in 2018, and he said no one wants to watch someone hit 5 iron off the tee each time, because it’s just not an appealing product.”
Everyday amateur golfers, I pose this question to you: In 2026, when you tee the ball up with your buddies for the first time after the new rules could take effect, would you use the shorter golf balls that the pros play with, or would you use the longer golf balls made just for amateurs? Let us know in the comments.