The potential for changes to equipment will understandably grab the limelight in discussions about the Distance Insights Report but it is elsewhere within the study that the most important work is being done.
Among the multitude of topics comprehensively covered by the USGA and R&A is a section titled ‘How Golf Courses Change’ which you can find HERE.
While not the most glamorous, it is the area which everyday golfers should take particular note of as it touches on those aspects of the game that bump up against the non-golf community.
Unlike the discussion around strategy and entertainment which effects the 0.01 percent of elite players (and hence is only of interest to us golf nerds), this is the issue that unquestionably impacts the remaining 99.99 percent.
For those not familiar, this portion of the research was undertaken by the USGA Green Section with the goal of examining the footprint of the game across the board over time.
Everything from high end private clubs and those that host professional tournaments down to semi-private and public facilities servicing the bulk of golfers were included in the study.
The importance of the game’s footprint is clear in a world of finite resources and competition for space.
And it is even more keenly felt at the less well-off and public golf facilities, particularly those in urban areas, where most new golfers are introduced to the game.
"Unlike the discussion around strategy and entertainment which effects the 0.01 percent of elite players (and hence is only of interest to us golf nerds), this is the issue that unquestionably impacts the remaining 99.99 percent." - Rod Morri.
Using aerial photographs of 80 courses collected over decades, the study concluded that the impact of hitting distance has direct consequences on the overall increasing footprint of golf.
Among the key takeaways were: Modern courses have a larger footprint than older courses; the average area of fairways, greens, and bunkers tends to decrease at courses over time and; there were clear distance impacts on how courses evolve, and those impacts have become more pronounced in recent decades.
There are many and varied factors involved in these broad findings (not all are related to distance) and the report does a good job of noting them.
However, distance is unquestionably one of the factors at play hence its inclusion in the report.
To their credit, the authors resist the temptation to try to answer some of the questions raised.
Instead, they simply list those questions and leave it for the reader to consider.
We will do the same here as they are worth pondering, especially for the less well-off and public facilities that make up so much of the game and are so crucial to its future.
Many would have you believe the distance debate is only about the elite of the game but that is not true.
It is very much the concern of those of us residing in the 99.99 percent because it is the courses we play that are also being impacted by increased hitting distance.
A sample of questions put forward by the USGA in their summary of the ‘How Golf Courses Change’ report:
*Has the low-hanging fruit been picked when it comes to adjusting for increased hitting distance?
*Have most of the practical design changes already been used in keeping up to this point?
*Courses showed limited ability to expand their footprint in our research, so will future efforts to add distance become increasingly expensive, awkward, or detrimental to the golf experience?
*Will we see architecture and safety increasingly compromised as courses implement less-practical solutions?
*Distance impacts were most pronounced on championship courses and private courses. Does this suggest that public courses are less affected by distance pressures or less able to adjust?
*If courses cannot make distance adjustments due to space or resource constraints, do they risk losing customers and negatively impacting their viability?