What is the golf Rollback and how does it affect you?

Chiefs of Golf Governing Bodies Announce Date for Golf Ball Rollback

As we approach the end of 2023, the golfing world finds itself on the brink of significant change.

With the announcement by R&A and USGA regarding the implementation of a rollback on golf ball distance.

This new rule aims to limit the distance a golf ball can travel, with the ultimate goal of preserving the integrity and sustainability of the sport.

However, this decision has sparked differing opinions and implications for both golfers and manufacturers,.

Golf ball globe

What is golf’s Rollback?

To understand the forthcoming changes, we first need to consider what is the problem that needs addressing?

In short, Golf governing bodies feel the recent advancement in equipment means Professional golfers are now hitting the ball too far.

This has resulted in many golf course owners needing to reconsider the layouts of their course. 

E.g. whether to relocate tee boxes, thus extending the length of some golf holes to accommodate the greater hitting distances being achieved by top golfers.

In addition, the potential implementation of the rollback is set to have a profound impact on various aspects of the golfing industry.

However, by restricting the maximum distance a golf ball can travel, these proposed changes aim to promote increased sustainability. 

i.e. by reducing the need for continual course expansion and minimizing maintenance costs, including water consumption.

The big question being, how will this affect the amateur golfer.

What Is Bifurcation?

Bifurcation is a word I had never heard of until 6 months ago.

The Oxford dictionary definition is a place where a road, river, etc. divides into two distinct parts.

e.g. Pro golfers and amateur golfers using different equipment, in this case golf balls.

The idea has been discussed many times by the governing bodies, who have staunchly refused to see the game split into two camps.

Despite much speculation, while the issues was debated heavily in recent months, the USGA and R&A decided against it.

By resisting Birurification, golfers of all levels can play the same courses (albeit off different tees) therefore allowing anyone to compare themselves to the Pros.

Tiger Woods said in 2022: “We want to keep the game so enjoyable and we’re trying to get more participation. And having the larger heads, and more forgiving clubs, adds to the enjoyment of the game. So, there’s a very delicate balancing act.”

“I think it’s on the table whether we bifurcate or not. It’s only one per cent of the guys or women that are going to be using that type of equipment, but we want to keep the game enjoyable, we want to keep having more kids want to play it.”

Rollback – The New Rules

The proposed rollback of ball distance entails a reduction in the maximum distance a golf ball can travel after impact.

Under the new proposals, golf balls struck with a robot-controlled swing speed of 125 mph.

This is an overall an increase from 120 mph.

However, in order to conform to the new rules, the distance reached by the golf ball must not exceed 317 yards.

The revision effectively keeps the ‘Overall Distance Standard’ (ODS) consistent, despite increasing swing speed by 5 mph.

Additionally, adjustments in testing conditions for spin rate and launch angle are being considered.

Allowing for advancements in swing speed while ensuring the overall distance standard remains unchanged.

The statistical argument for change

Over the past two decades, historical data indicates a significant increase in the average driving distance on the PGA Tour.

With many players now capable of driving over 300 yards.

This surge in distance has not only shaped player behavior but has also driven a rise in the sales of premium golf balls.

And underscored the profound change of equipment advancements in recent decades.

The golf rollback strives to address this trend and refocus the sport on skills and strategic play, emphasizing more than just distance.

With the PGA Tour unwilling to support a set of bifurcated rules, iconic golf courses across the world on the verge of losing their integrity.

Therefore, the R&A and USGA have seemingly been left with little choice but to implement a universal rollback for golfers of all abilities.

What does all this mean for the Amateur golfer?

Well, while the players at the top level can argue about if this new ruling is limiting the ‘natural’ competition of one Pro golfer against another, the average golfer will not see much change.

It was first assumed that all levels of golfer would see a proportional reduction in their hitting distances of 5%.

This means the average amateur golfer with an average swing speed (93 mph) loses around 10 yards.

Reviewing the USGA’s data, however, the impact across skill levels will be much harder to predict, based on the individual.

USGA Amatuer DRiving Distances Chart

As such, it is suggested the ‘actual’ loss in driving distance will be more like claims the number to be 3-5 yards, for men. And just 1-3 yards for Women.

So, we don’t think the ‘average’ golfer will even notice the change.

Here is what Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A said about the new ruling:

“We are convinced that this decision is one of the keyways of achieving a sustainable future for golf. Protecting the integrity of the game, and meeting our environmental responsibilities. The measure we are taking has been carefully considered and calibrated while maintaining the ‘one game’ ethos deemed to be so important to the golf industry. Importantly, it also keeps the impact on recreational golfers to an absolute minimum.”

Golf’s Rollback – When does it start?

The golfing community looks forward to January 2028, when the rollback will come into effect.

And there are numerous factors that need to be worked out between governing bodies, golf ball manufacturers, and various tours.

Reactions and opinions from Tour Players, Golf Writers, and Pundits from all facets of the game have been diverse.

But only time will tell who will ultimately benefit from these changes.

By Isaiah Mwesgie