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Bifurcation ‘detrimental': Stakeholders respond to USGA-R&A proposed golf ball rollback

The USGA and R&A announced Tuesday a proposed model local rule that would give elite competition organizers the option to use golf balls tested under modified launch conditions, a major effort to roll back the ball in hopes of curbing ever-increasing distance gains.

And golf’s stakeholders, including the PGA Tour and Acushnet, parent company of Titleist, have responded.

“I appreciate people making those comments,” USGA CEO Mike Whan said. “As I said, governance is hard. This is not the thing that we’re most proud of, as people sometimes tend to think. We know this is going to be difficult, and I would just say to the group that sees that, I’m glad you do, because I can speak for [USGA chief governance officer] Thomas [Pagel] and the rest of the USGA, we’re proud to be partnered with the R&A. They’re respectful, not only of us but of the game, and I’m glad we’re living this together, because as [R&A chief technology officer] Steve [Otto] said, sometimes you have to do this in more of a vacuum and you push back, challenge each other and we haven’t loved each other the whole way of the process, but we’ve respected each other and always had the vision.

The USGA and R&A have announced a proposal that would change the testing standard for golf balls used in elite competition via model local rule by January 2026.

“What I’ve really respected about [R&A chief executive] Martin [Slumbers] is at the end of the day, it’s about what’s going to be good for the game in 20 or 40 years, not what’s good for tomorrow. I can promise you none of us have had a conversation about where we’re going to play an Open Championship or a U.S. Open, and this is so critical for that. This is going – shame on us if we would ever be making a decision along that lines. This is about whether or not the game is healthier 20 years from now than it is today or at least as healthy.”

Here are the full comments from major tours and equipment companies:

PGA Tour

“We continue to work closely with the USGA and The R&A on a range of initiatives, 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.”


“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’”

PGA of America

“As we have previously stated to the USGA and the R&A, 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 LPGA is appreciative of the leadership and stewardship of the USGA and The R&A on a variety of topics, including distance. At this time, we do not see distance as a hindrance toward the growth of the LPGA Tour or to the courses on which we can compete. We intend to explore and examine this proposal during the comment period and beyond from all angles. As always, we will act in accordance with what is best for our players, our partners, our Tour, our fans and the women’s game overall. We are committed to ensuring the golf course is an equitable place for everyone, and our focus will be on helping grow the women’s game and providing equal opportunities for girls and women of all ages.”

Callaway Golf

“We are studying the information and proposals provided. We have no further comment at this time.”