Golf Ball Rollback Rule

Are we really doing this? The Golf Ball RollBack Debate

Golf has been booming since 2020 which was much needed in the sport. According to the National Golf Foundation, 3.3 million people played golf on a course for the first time in 2022. 

Not to mention Netflix’s Full Swing, LIV Golf in 2022, more purse money in PGA elevated events, PIF/PGA Tour merger, and now Tiger’s comeback. Golf is top of mind in the sports world, and more people than ever are enjoying the best game ever.

But the golf ball rollback announcement is stealing all the headlines heading into 2024. Keep reading to learn more about this shocking news, how it impacts pros, amateurs, and what to expect in the future. 

Golf Ball Rollback 

On December 6th, 2023 the golf world was flipped upside down with news of an official golf ball rollback. Read the full release from the USGA and R&A here

Cliff notes: PGA Tour players and amateur golfers are both affected by the rollback and won’t hit it as far. As noted, “In plain English: the golf balls that used to fly 317 yards — the resulting limit the governing bodies have chosen — must be altered to fly that distance (at the most) with a faster swing speed and lower spin rate.”

Simply put, new golf balls will fly shorter distances.

The reason?  Sustainability… 

“We are convinced that this decision is one of the key ways of achieving a sustainable future for golf, protecting the integrity of the game and meeting our environmental responsibilities.” – Martin Slumbers, R&A CEO. 

Key Takeaways

  • The governing bodies of golf (USGA + R&A) announced on December 6th, 2023 golf ball rollback plans. 
  • This is apparently to achieve sustainability and protect the integrity of the game.
  • Bifurcation was originally floated (one set of equipment for pros, another for amateurs) in early 2023 but scrapped.
  • The golf ball roll back plans will take place in 2028 for professionals and 2030 for amateur golfers. 

Keep reading to learn more about the impact this rule could have for pros and amateurs alike. 

How many Golf Balls should I Carry

History of Rolling the Golf Ball Back

In March 2023 the idea was floated for a modified local ball rule which would see professionals and elite amateurs play a different golf ball in competition. The goal was to limit how far these players could hit the ball, so golf courses don’t become obsolete. 

This was known as bifurcation – pros would have to change equipment or balls, while everything stayed the same for amateur golfers. Tiger Woods compared it to professional baseball players, saying, “As I told you guys, I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats [in baseball].” 

However, once the idea was floated around, it was shot down quickly. Pros didn’t like the idea, and amateurs wanted to play the same equipment as their favorite golfers. Looking back, I wish they would’ve gone this direction, as it wouldn’t have changed anything for everyday golfers. 

Instead of a modified local ball rule or bifurcation, the USGA + R&A decided to change ball testing conditions. The goal is to improve the long-term stability of the sport. 

Here’s what will change: 

  • Current golf ball testing (established 20 years ago): 120 mph clubhead speed, 176 mph ball speed, 2520 RPM’s with a launch angle of 10 degrees.
  • New golf ball testing: 125 mph clubhead speed, 183 mph ball speed, 2200 RPM’s, with a launch angle of 11 degrees. 

Ultimately, the golf ball will not travel as far with a driver. According to the press release, “The longest hitters are expected to see a reduction of as much as 13–15 yards in drive distance. 

Average professional tour and elite male players are expected to see a reduction of 9–11 yards, with a 5-7-yard reduction for an average LET or LPGA player.”

These changes will become official in January 2028 for professional golfers and January 2030 for recreational golfers. Let’s get into how this will impact professional golf and how it could greatly change the game for everyday golfers. 

Impact on Professional Golfers

So, how will the rules change impact professional golf?  

During the 2022-2023 season, the PGA Tour average distance is 299.9 (Rory tops the charts at 326.3). For context, the average driving distance was 288.8 in the 2013-2014 season. 

How to Become a Professional Golfer

In nearly a decade, the average PGA Tour player hits it about 10 yards longer, nearly a yard per year. This is likely a combination of technology, a focus from players on golf workouts/stretching, and overspeed training

If the governing bodies of golf are correct, let’s say the ball travels 15 yards less. The average PGA Tour player would then hit it about 285 based on this year’s driving average. 

Which begs the question, is 15 yards really going to make a golf course that much more challenging for the best players in the world?

I think not… sure, it’ll likely lead to a slightly higher average score, but not as much as you might think. The PGA Tour also released a memo stating that the system has flaws, despite providing the USGA and the R&A with feedback. 

In short, pro golfers will hit it shorter off the tee, but 15 yards isn’t the end of the world. 

Impact on Amateur Golfers 

Golf fans (myself included) were shocked to learn this news would not only impact professionals but amateurs too. The game is already hard enough for recreational players, why make it more difficult? It’s not like the everyday golfer is hitting 300+ yards bombs and making municipal golf courses irrelevant.

In fact, the data is quite the opposite. 

Golf Swing Speed

According to Trackman the average swing speed is 93.4 for the everyday player which results in an average drive of 214 yards.

In a study by Arccos Golf, scratch golfers average about 260 (younger plays hit up to 275 while senior golfers are 250 or less). Mid-handicaps hit it anywhere from 205 to 237 yards. 

As Arccos Golf said, “The average scratch player, regardless of age, was about 50 yards longer than the average 22-handicapper.” So, in essence, better players are longer.”

Needless to say, amateur golfers are not overpowering the golf course. When’s the last time you saw a group of scratch golfers dominate your country club or local golf course from the tips? 

Let me just say, I play the tips as I’m a competitive golfer and the back tee boxes are nearly untouched. The everyday golfer is simply not overpowering the golf course, which is why this rule for amateurs makes zero sense. 

Pace of Play 

Pace of play is my biggest concern from the golf ball rollback. 

One of the challenges to growing the game is getting people to invest 4–5 hours to play 18 holes. Paired with a good warm up and post round meal, it’s six or more hours. 

If amateurs start hitting it shorter instead of longer, it’s only going to hurt the pace of play. This makes it less profitable for golf courses, more frustrating for players, and actually leads to higher scores. 

Arccos Golf studied how pace of play impacts scoring average and confirmed what most of us already know. A longer round leads to higher scores.

Image Source 

As they mentioned, “At a quick glance, every level of golfer benefits from a faster pace of play, with the lowest scores coming in between 3.0-3.5 hour rounds. However, higher handicap golfers are slightly more affected by pace of play than their more skilled buddies.”

Impact on Golf Ball Manufacturers

As you can imagine, golf ball manufacturers weren’t thrilled about the news either. This means they’ll need to spend countless hours and money in R&D to figure out how to conform in upcoming years. 

According to the USGA/R&A press release, “A significant portion of golf ball models that are currently in the market – and more than 30 percent of all golf ball models submitted for conformance across the game – are expected to remain conforming after these changes are applied.”

That also means 70% of existing golf balls won’t be allowed in the coming years. Which means big names like Callaway, Titleist, TaylorMade, and others have to go back to the drawing board. 

The CEO of Titleist – aka the number one ball in golf, had this to say about the news. “As we consider today’s R&A and USGA announcement against recent feedback provided by the World Alliance of PGA’s and the PGA TOUR, we are also concerned that the golf ball rollback overly impacts golfers and does not fully reflect the input of those closest to the game.” 

Also saying in the statement, “Many important stakeholders do not see distance as a problem the way the governing bodies do, and therefore come to differing conclusions about how to proceed to ensure the best possible outcome for the sport.”

Chances are, you’ll need to say goodbye to your favorite golf ball in the near future. 

Best Golf Balls

FAQs About Golf Ball Rollback News 

If you have more questions about this shocking news in golf, keep reading to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. 

What is the ball rollback in golf?

Governing bodies of golf will change how balls are tested, which will make them not carry as long. This is in an effort to keep golf courses relevant to protect the integrity of the game (allegedly). This impacts both professional and amateur golfers alike. 

When does the golf ball rollback take effect?

The new rules changes won’t happen overnight, so don’t sell your Pro V1s on the black market just yet. The changes will take place for professional golfers in 2028 and 2030 for amateur golfers. 

What is changing with golf balls?

How golf balls are tested, which will impact total distance, effectively making them go shorter. The governing bodies of golf estimate this to impact professionals the most, with a loss of 13–15 yards with a driver.  

My Experience

If you want to make a change to professional golf, okay, I get it. 

We aren’t making any more land, and some iconic bucket list courses can’t compete in the modern game. Not everyone has the ability to add distance to the course like Augusta National (which is more than 7,500 yards).

But rolling the ball back for amateur golfers is a horrible idea. It’s only going to make golf even more challenging, slow down the average pace of play, and make it harder to grow the game. 

Since you have until 2030, I’d suggest taking this time to improve your health and take speed training seriously.

Final Thoughts 

The rollback does not make sense for amateur golfers. 

Nearly eight months ago, Martin Slumbers of the R&A said, “At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimize the impact on a flourishing recreational game.” 

While the CEO of the USGA said, “We don’t see recreational golf obsoleting golf courses anytime soon.” Also, saying, “There are not as many forward tees as you think if you make the recreational game a little bit shorter.”

So my question to them is… what changed in less than a year? 

Amateur golfers should get to hit longer, not shorter, to keep growing this great game. Hopefully these future changes don’t negatively affect the growth of the game. 

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael is a friend and contributor to the Left Rough. He is a full-time writer, podcast host of Wicked Smart Golf, and mental golf coach. He’s played for 25+ years and regularly competes in amateur golf tournaments in Arizona.

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