Supplement to our publication of the EIGCA’s announcement that its Members support measures to reduce hitting distance in golf. Headline data from the 19 questions put to members of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects under 9 headings (survey dated July 2020) followed by some quotations from individual architects.
- 66% feel the ever-increasing length in golf threatens the integrity / essence of how the game is played
- 66% feel the increased length in golf threatens the integrity / essence of historic courses to an unacceptable level
- Environmental sustainability
- Considerable concern was shown about the negative effects on land grab (70%), water consumption (66%), demand for resources (59%) and habitat reduction (45%)
- 88% are concerned about the safety implications brought about by technological development of equipment (68% were very concerned)
- 90% have encountered existing courses with increased safety issues due to the increase in hitting distance
- 73% have increased safety margins due to the increase in hitting distance
- 25% have been frequently tasked by clients to design a course that (in their professional opinion as an architect) is unnecessarily long. 38% say they have occasionally been briefed to do this.
- 20% have almost always been tasked by clients to lengthen a course, another 37% have frequently been briefed to do so, and 32% occasionally (89% of respondents meaning this is a common requirement asked of architects)
- 93% have re-designed a course, or part of a course, due to the increase in hitting distance (15% almost always, 37% frequently, 42% occasionally)
- 83% have adapted their design strategies over the course of their career due to the increase in hitting distance.
- 54% believe the increase in hitting distance has had a negative impact on gender equality in the game
- 88% assess the impact of continued increases in hitting distances as having a negative impact on golf
- 76% see there being a negative impact on golf course design
- 75% believe that the increasing ball flight length and club technology were diminishing the skill of the game and lead to a simplification of golf course strategy
- 59% believe the ‘increase in hitting distance’ and ‘improvement in consistency of strike’ have made golf more fun for amateurs. NB: this could be a conflict of interest if an equipment rule change to reduce shot lengths were to be adopted for all players, not just professional golfers. The majority of respondents favour maintaining the status quo for amateurs.
- 50% feel that ‘distance’ and ‘consistency of strike’ for amateur golfers are equally important in the enjoyment of the game. The other 50% were slightly more in favour of ‘consistency of strike’
- Future growth
- When asked about what is important to the future growth of the game, no respondent mentioned hitting distance. 56% cited consistency of strike as being the most important and the remaining 46% were spread across factors, with comments including: joy of the game, health benefits, community and diversity/accessibility, pace of play, and reducing the cost to play.
- 95% believe the governing bodies in golf need to take action to reduce the hitting distance. Of this number who expressed an opinion, 34% say this should only be applied to professional tournaments.
- 62% think that amateurs should be spared any regulatory effects to reduce hitting distance (21% amateurs be completely exempt + 41% that amateurs should largely be spared)
- Reduction in shot length
- When asked by what percentage they would like to see the hitting distance reduced (considering an average shot length of 310 yards / 282 metres by the longest hitters on the PGA and European Tours in 2019 … 53% said a 10% reduction, 33% thought 15%, 15% thought 0-5%, and 7.5% believe more than 15%.
Comments made by EIGCA members
1 Does ever-increasing length in golf threaten the integrity / essence of how the game is played?
- “The essence of the game is in the challenge of hazards, strategic, options, and shotmaking ability.” (Kari Haug)
- “It used to be a game of skill, accuracy and course management. Now it’s a power game.” (Michael Harradine)
- “Professional golf will become a very boring sport if all people watch someone hitting a drive and a pitch all the time.” (Simon Gidman)
- “The length issue impacts more on the way the game is played at the highest level, much less so for the average golfer.” (Ross McMurray)
- “Not significantly for 99.99 % of the golfing population but significantly for tour pros and elite players.” (Alan Walker)
- “The idea that ‘longer is best’ is perpetuated through the professional game by the media and manufacturers – in written media, broadcast coverage and the dominance of distance technology-related marketing. Despite the fact that the amateur game has not lengthened in comparison to professionals and it is historically a game of multiple skills, the weight professional golf holds inevitably contributes to the perception that length is paramount. That inherently threatens how golf is played at all levels, its attraction as a multi-skill sport and ultimately the game’s sustainable future.” (Gareth Williams)
2 Does ever-increasing length in golf threaten the integrity / essence of the historic /and highly rated) courses on which it is developed?
- “Driving distances have caused courses to add tees and to adjust hazard and bunker locations” (Thomas Marzolf)
- “Increasing drive distances can lead to a tendency for modification which can be detrimental to the character of the course.” (David Hemstock)
- “In the case of the Old Course at St. Andrews, it is questionable whether things have gone too far with tees placed outside of the original courses boundary which is not possible on most courses.” (Ken Moodie)
- “… in some cases, led to the formation of teeing grounds at great distance from the preceding greens …. recent changes made to the Old Course, St. Andrews has seen formation of tees at some 50 – 100 yards back from previous teeing grounds. (Brian Noble)
- “As it is still a small percentage of players (professionals and long hitting amateurs) who are able to circumvent a lot of strategic elements on historic courses by way of length. However, if technology continues to provide more and more length, a larger and larger percentage of players will be able to disregard the strategic elements on historic courses.” (Matt Osborne)
3 From a golf architectural point of view, to what extent do the following factors (all highlighted in The R&A’s Distance Insights Report) threaten the integrity of golf with regards to … hitting distance:
- Bifurcation (splitting of professional and amateur rules)
- Diminishing skill of the game
- Simplification of golf course strategy
- “General increases in distance mean that, despite golfers’ best efforts, balls fly further in the wrong direction than ever. This threatens the safety of many courses, their players and neighbouring properties. Likewise, new course designs are required to allow for increasingly large safety margins between holes and to boundaries, which threatens the success and viability of courses’ future development in general.” (Gareth Williams)
- “The fact that professionals’ hitting distances continue to increase significantly over that of amateurs suggests that the game is split already; bifurcation of the rules (to allow tournaments to use distance limiting balls, for example) would not have a noticeable impact on the wider game and potentially allow some of its classic courses – currently considered too short for the modern long-hitting professional – to be considered again for professional events …” (Gareth Williams)
- “I believe bifurcation is probably the easiest option given where we are now at, although it does go against the essence of the game in my opinion. It is difficult to roll things back and for most amateurs it is not necessary” (Niall Glen)
- “I don’t see a problem splitting the amateur and professional ranks, in fact I would encourage it” (Simon Gidman)
- A few others feel that “bifurcation would be the end of golf as we know it. I believe one of the best things of golf is being able to compare ourselves with the best. Losing that will diminish the wow factor we get from watching the best” (Jeff Howes)
- “The ball flight with reduced spin and increased stability reduces skill, and with golfers able to clear hazards previously intended to be in play and offer strategic elements, both the strategic integrity and the skill of the golfer is reduced. Shorter approaches also negate the need for many to hit long clubs from fairways into greens, reducing the skill factor” (Thomas Kelly)
4 From a golf architectural point of view, to what extent do the following factors (all highlighted in The R&A’s Distance Insights Report) threaten the integrity of golf with regards to … sustainable design / development (1 = least threat to 5 = highest threat)
- Demand for water
- Demand for resources
- Land grab
- Habitat reduction
- “All the items listed above are potential detractors and challenges to the integrity of golf with regards to sustainable design / development that require great architectural sensitivity to overcome. (Brian Noble)
- “If you consider that on new courses the land take to deliver a safe golf course to “championship” length and high agronomic standard is now much greater, then this has a severe impact on the demand for water and resources. On existing courses, course lengthening practises will inevitably result in habitat reduction as more site area is required for new tees etc, usually at the expense of native areas.” (Niall Glen)
5 Have you been asked to design a course that, in your professional opinion, is unnecessarily long?
No quotes for this question
6 Have you been tasked specifically to lengthen a golf course(s) by the owner / club?
- “We are constantly asked to review golf courses, for lengthening and to replace hazards and bunkers accordingly. And golf courses have the sentiment that it’s a lost battle and a bad use of financial resources that could be used elsewhere.” (Mark Adam)
7 Have you re-designed course(s) or part of course(s) due to the increase in hitting distance?
- “Often among first comments is a request to “maximize” length but this often stated without full and due consideration of the impact of doing so.” (Brian Noble)
- “Regular closing of obsolete bunkers and installation of new hazards in reach of today’s good players.” (Christoph Städler)
- “With most re-designs safety is raised as an issue, more often than not due to the increased length of golfers” (Thomas Kelly)
- “Doglegs come in totally wrong positions, the players are cutting off corners and accidents take place on holes that are situated nearby. Players on the tee can’t see the golfers behind the bushes and trees” (Alan Rijks)
8 Have you encountered existing courses with increased safety issues due to the increase in hitting distance?
- “The club technology rewards faster swing speeds so all players swing harder and problem causing mishits are even more likely than before. (Tom Mackenzie)
- “We are regularly called in as experts in courts of law to evaluate safety issues and responsibilities when accidents happen. Golf courses have been closed down. And on practice ranges the situation is out of control!” (Mark Adam)
9 Have you increased your safety margins due to the increase in hitting distance?
- “If there is room then we do, but on existing courses that is often not an option.” (Tom Mackenzie)
- “I no longer believe the original safety margins are sufficient, so I increase them when it is possible to do so.” (Gary Johnston)
10 Over the course of your career, has your view on, or implementation of, design strategy changed due to the increase in hitting distance?
- “Positioning of hazards … are adjusted to accommodate elite golf / professional play.” (Alan Walker)
- “Dogleg positions have altered. Strategy is much harder to create if the longest players are constantly hitting lofted clubs into the green.” (Tom Mackenzie)
- “Design strategy is unbalanced between average and excellent golfers. The landing area of poor to excellent golfers is now a much longer area. Hard to have good strategy for all players now, since the increase in distance!!” (Thomas Marzolf)
11. Do you believe that the increase in hitting distance has had an influence on gender equality in the game?
- “Modern equipment is much more forgiving and rewards power over skill which exacerbates the gulf between men’s and women’s golf.” (Gary Johnston)
- “The gulf between longer and shorter players is ever widening regardless of gender, but it is fair to say that only the tiniest fraction of female players have benefitted significantly from the trampoline effect that the elite male players enjoy.” (Tom Mackenzie)
- “Longer golf courses have likely been to the detriment of gender equality and may well have put off prospective golfers …” (Brian Noble)
- “Increased distance makes it more and more difficult to design a “course within a course” – meaning a shorter course for female players within the context of a new longer course that fits the hitting distances of male players.” (Kari Haug)
12. Do you believe that continued increases in hitting distances would have an impact on golf?
- “More expensive, longer. slower rounds on larger, less sustainable golf courses is not appealing to anyone I know of.” (Thomas Kelly)
- “Seeing the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson de Chambeau demolishing courses with raw power is exciting in some ways, but unless they play 8.000 yard courses, these players are just hitting wedges into greens and the game is dull dull dull!” (Tom Mackenzie)
13. Do you believe that continued increases in hitting distances would have an impact on golf course design?
- “It is not necessarily the longer distances but the range of distances between the slower swing speeds to the fastest makes tee positioning and strategy very difficult to implement fairly.” (Paul Kimber)
- “More land will be required which increases the costs and subsequently reduces the potential profitability of a piece of land, making developers less likely to consider golf on their property.” (Stephen Ridgway)
- “I think it could have a positive impact on renovation work for older courses, however new-build courses would need to be longer, which means more water, resources, land etc. which may end up being cost prohibitive and may reduce interest in this type of development.” (Matt Osborne)
14. Do you think the “increase in hitting distance” and “improvement in consistency of strike” has made golf more fun for amateurs?
- “Undoubtedly. Anyone who has tried hitting shots with an old set of blades knows how difficult and unenjoyable an experience it is.” (Will Murray)
- “No doubt golf is more fun for the amateur if they feel they can play it better thanks to the equipment.” (Robin Hiseman)
15. In assessing the importance of “distance” and “consistency of strike” for amateur golfers, what balance would you assign each in the enjoyment of the game?
- “Even though “more distance” is a better selling point, I think generally players would be happier to hit the ball consistently straighter rather than farther.” (Matt Osborne)
- “If you give me a consistent 230 yds driver in the center of the fairway, I’ll take it any day.” (Agustin Piza)
16. What do you see as most important to the growth of the game?
- “Fun and enjoyment which long, difficult courses do not give the players” (David Minogue)
- “Accessibility, affordability and pace of play are all more vital to the growth of the game.” (Gary Johnston)
- “Promoting health benefits, both physical and mental. Getting kids interested in the game and being outdoors, rather than living a “virtual” existence in their bedrooms.” (Robin Hiseman)
- “Sustainable golf courses which are near urban centres, easily accessible with reasonable pricing. That means shorter courses.” (Mark Adam)
- “Accessible golfing options (price, availability, location), a wide variety of golfing options (3, 6, 9, 12, 18-hole options, Top Golf etc.) and overall social enjoyment I believe are key factors in growing the game.” (Matt Osborne)
17. Should the governing bodies in golf, the R&A and USGA, take action to reduce the hitting distance?
- “If no action is taken hitting distances are going to carry on increasing … I would like to see a reduction in the forgiveness of longer clubs to increase the skill level. As with prior rule changes (square grooves and limiting trampoline effect of clubface) I believe the changes would be largely accepted by players and could be good for manufacturers who will be able to sell new “rule-compliant” equipment.” (Gary Johnston)
- “A reigning-in of the golf ball will have a greater impact on the longer hitters just as the current technology favours them.” (Stephen Ridgway)
18. Considering an average shot length of 310 y / 282 m by the 20 longest hitters on the PGA Tour and the European Tour in 2019 – by what percentage would you like to see the hitting distance reduced?
- “15 % would take 310 yards back to 265 yards which seems a big jump backwards. Somewhere between 10 and 15 % would be good.” (Tom Mackenzie)
- “To retain an average drive of 270 – 280 yards.” (David Hemstock)
- “270 yards should be considered a long hit. By making this adjustment it re-introduces long and medium iron second shots to holes.” (Alan Walker)
- “I’d like to see a roll-back to the shot lengths of the 70s and 80s, before the “metal woods” were invented. That would bring the class and integrity of the old classic golf courses back into championship play.” (Christoph Städler)
- “Only for professionals” (Peter Harradine)
- “Reduce pro length, keep amateur length!” (Stephen McFarlane)
19. Should amateur golf be spared from regulatory effects to reduce hitting distance?
- “For the vast majority of amateur golf … hitting distance has been a boon to their game and should remain so. “Only low handicap / scratch amateur golf competitions should be regulated to reduce hitting distance.” (Brian Noble)
- “Small urban courses should be able to use the reduced balls so that they can operate more safely…. Elite amateur competitions should also use the limited ball as they often hit the ball as far as the professionals.” (Tom Mackenzie)
- “Everyone should continue to use the same ball. Most amateur golfers probably wouldn’t notice the difference” (Stephen Ridgway)
- “The handicap system makes golf one of the few games that can be played with parity from beginner to professional and would become too complicated if equipment would be needed to be factored in too. Also, manufacturers and golfers would be unhappy at not being able to sell / use the same equipment as the professionals.” (Gary Johnston)
R&A Distance Insights https://www.randa.org/TheRandA/Distance-Insights