News & Opinion

Solution for distance debate: 2 sets of rules

Speculation has been running rampant that golf’s governing bodies eventually are going to evoke equipment standards that will cause a rollback in the distance that the golf ball travels.

Will all recreational golfers in favor of hitting shorter shots please identify themselves?

A distance rollback would not be good for the overall health of the game (“Distance takes leap in golf, but what’s next?” March 6). Maybe it benefits golf’s ability to return PGA Tour-level play to some courses used in the past, but limiting distance is a killer for the masses of golfers around the world who play the game for fun.

There is an easy answer that golf’s leaders never would support: bifurcation of the Rules of Golf. Create one set of rules for golf at the highest level and another set for recreational play. The only place that distance controls should be considered is for championship golf on the PGA and LPGA tours, in USGA and R&A national championships and at the Masters. Please, leave the rest of golf alone.

Don’t tell me that course maintenance would be reduced. The turf still needs to be mowed, whether it’s rough or fairways. Don’t assume that golfers simply can play a different set of tees. New and shorter distances may make some tee boxes obsolete, and not many course owners can afford to build new tees. Don’t say that the pace of play will be faster if golfers travel a shorter distance to get to their next shot. Shorter shots will require more strokes, and higher scores don’t generate enthusiasm to play more rounds.

Major League Baseball requires wooden bats in the major and minor leagues, but aluminum bats dominate at the amateur levels. Aluminum bats can produce much greater ball speeds. Golf surely could use two different golf balls for its top championship events if it deems distance to be a problem on the professional tours. Not one of the ball studies that I have seen deals with recreational distances, which account for the vast majority of shots fired around the world.

It’s interesting to watch the distance rollback unfold in contrast to the ban of the anchored stroke. In November 2012, it became apparent that the governing bodies were going to proceed with a ban on the anchored stroke when a 90-day comment period was announced. The PGA of America was calculating in its opposition to anchoring as it surveyed its members before making a public announcement on its official position. Ultimately, Rule 14-1b, which banned anchoring, was implemented on Jan. 1, 2016.

This week, Pete Bevacqua, the PGA’s chief executive officer, was so eager to voice his opposition to the idea of a distance rollback that he actually did so before the PGA surveyed its members on the subject. A day later, the PGA emailed its members a three-question survey:

Do you believe that increases in distance are detrimental to the health of the game? – Yes or No

Do you believe that advances in golf ball technology have been beneficial or detrimental to our efforts to grow the game? – Beneficial or Detrimental

Would you be in favor of or opposed to a rollback of the golf ball? – Favor or Opposed

A day before the survey was conducted, Bevacqua released the following statement: “Having just received the full report last evening, it is difficult for us at the PGA of America to provide meaningful comments on its content at this time. However, given the recent industry discussions and media reports regarding a potential roll back of the golf ball for all players and/or a segment of elite players, our Board of Directors has discussed this topic at length. Based on the information we have seen, we are highly skeptical that rolling back the golf ball in whole or part will be in the best interests of the sport and our collective efforts to grow the game.”

Whether the PGA of America jumped the gun or not with its public comments, one thing is certain: Bevacqua feels confident that his membership will reflect his sentiments when the survey results are tallied. The PGA prides itself on “being the tangible connection to the recreational golfer.”

There is no doubt that the anchoring ban impacted more recreational golfers than it did elite players. The same unquestionably will be true with distance limitations on the golf ball. So, unless the bifurcation bubble is finally broken, the masses of players who play golf for fun will see the sport once again turn its back on them.

Tradition is the enemy of progress. Until bifurcation finally happens, golf will continue to be stuck in the mud when it comes to making the sport fun for the millions who don’t make a living playing the game.      

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email:; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga