Titleist, the PGA Tour and PGA of America respond to USGA & R&A’s proposed rollback

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Following the joint USGA and R&A golf ball rollback announcement which can be read about here,  Acushnet, parent company of the world’s number one golf ball manufacturer Titleist have unsurprisingly come out strongly against the proposed Model Local Rule (MLR) which would see a reduced flight ball being used for elite level competitions.

In a statement published on the Titleist website, the company said the following:

“The sport of golf has advanced and evolved over the years thanks to a thoughtful balance between innovation and tradition. One of golf’s unifying appeals is that everyone in the game plays by the same set of rules, can play the same courses and with the same equipment.  Golfers can watch professionals and compare themselves to the world’s best, aspiring to hit the same shots.  This unification links the professional and recreational games, enriches the connection and viewing experience of the professional game, and contributes to golf’s momentum, unprecedented growth and promising future.

“The USGA and R&A have announced a Notice and Comment to manufacturers proposing a potential rule change to golf ball testing that results in a Model Local Rule (MLR) that provides for reduced distance golf balls intended for professional and elite amateur competitions and a different set of rules for all other play. This bifurcation would divide golf between elite and recreational play, add confusion, and break the linkage that is part of the game’s enduring fabric.

“‘Golf is an aspirational sport, and we believe at its very best when equipment and playing regulations are unified. Golf’s health and vibrancy are at historically high levels,’ said David Maher, President and Chief Executive Officer, Acushnet Company. ‘As we see it, existing golf ball regulations for Overall Distance and Initial Velocity are highly effective. During the past two decades, PGA Tour average course playing length has increased by less than 100 yards and scoring average has remained virtually flat. Average PGA Tour clubhead speed of 114.6 mph in 2022 was well below the current 120 mph and proposed 127 mph testing conditions. The proposal of golf ball bifurcation is in many respects a solution in search of a problem.’

“Under the proposed guidelines, events that adopt this MLR would require players to use a substantially shorter golf ball, similar in distance to what was available in the 1990s.  The performance changes of any rolled back ball would impact every shot in the round. Players would also be required to adapt to changes in equipment with some players disadvantaged over others by this disruption. Golf ball bifurcation would invite confusion as to what level of competition would use the MLR products and how to effectively manage and officiate. In addition, multiple versions of golf ball models in the market would be confusing to golfers.

“‘Playing by a unified set of rules is an essential part of the game’s allure, contributes to its global understanding and appeal, and eliminates the inconsistency and instability that would come from multiple sets of equipment standards,’ continued Maher. ‘Unification is a powerfully positive force in the game, and we believe that equipment bifurcation would be detrimental to golf’s long-term well-being. As a result, we will actively participate in this conversation with the governing bodies, worldwide professional tours, PGA Professional organizations, amateur associations and federations, and golfers, in an effort to contribute to the continued enjoyment and growth of the game'”

That the ball manufacturers would be opposed to any changes in ball regulation come as little surprise, and though Acushnet are the first to condemn the proposal, it’s highly likely that Callaway, Srixon and other leading manufacturers will hold similar views.

The PGA of America – the organisation that run the PGA Championship – did suggest that they are not in favour of bifurcation wherein amateurs and professionals would conform to differing sets of rules, but admitted that they were willing to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.

“As we have previously stated to the USGA and the R&A,” the PGA of American announced, “we are strongly opposed to any rules changes that will make the game less fun for recreational golfers. Regarding this specific area of interest, we are pleased that there is no longer a focus on changing or modifying the ball or clubs that recreational players may use. We are not in favor of bifurcation and do not anticipate individual club’s implementing such a Model Local Rule as it is meant for elite players. In regards to the PGA Championship, 2026 is still a long way off and until we know the specifics of the proposed Model Local Rule we are not in a position to make that determination.”

The PGA Tour, who may have been expected to take a firmer stance in opposition than the PGA of America, were a little more circumspect in their response, only going so far as to say that they would continue to monitor the situation, to conduct their own analysis, and to collaborate with the USGA and the R&A with the good of the game in mind.

“We continue to work closely with the USGA and The R&A on a range of initiatives,” the PGA Tour announced, “including the topic of distance. Regarding the Notice to Manufacturers announced today, we will continue our own extensive independent analysis of the topic and will collaborate with the USGA and The R&A, along with our membership and industry partners, to evaluate and provide feedback on this proposal. The Tour remains committed to ensuring any future solutions identified benefit the game as a whole, without negatively impacting the Tour, its players or our fans’ enjoyment of our sport.”

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