Golf ball rollback is good for the game and environment. The latter argument should shut up the critics, if nothing else
Basically, what it means is that the golfers will not be able to hit the ball too far heading into 2028.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) and United States Golf Association (USGA) have at last managed to have their way with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. Yes, the rollback of the golf ball has been approved and will be set in motion in January 2028. It’s a huge development in the golf world. Basically, what it means is that the golfers will not be able to hit the ball too far heading into 2028. The ball specifications will be changed so that it travels around 15 yards less for elite golfers and five for recreational ones.
It's going to change the landscape of the golfing world in a big way. First, let’s understand why the rule makers decided in favour of limiting golf ball distances despite opposition from the PGA Tour and DP World Tour at first. Also from many top golfers! Basically, what was happening... because of big distances hit by players, golf courses had started to look small. Golf courses with smaller yardage had begun to lose significance. Also, some golf courses were forced to increase their yardage on certain holes to be able to keep up with the big-hitting golfers.
This is exactly what has forced the rule makers to introduce the new guidelines. There is not enough space to enlarge the golf courses. There is not enough land to make new golf courses. Even if it is there, it is going to cost a lot of money. Bigger courses mean a lot of construction work which is not environment-friendly. Not just that, bigger courses mean bigger yardage and it’s going to require a lot of water to maintain the verdure all around. Since golfers can hit it big nowadays, it has also led to a lot of waste of time, in case the ball goes out of bounds or injures someone in the gallery. Last but not least, by limiting the distance the importance of skills in the game will take the ascendancy again. In the last few years, ‘hitting it big’ has taken a lot of spotlight.
So one would think the rollback is going to help the game at all levels and there can’t be any opposition to it, right? Sadly, that’s not the case. The golf world is at present cut in half with many top golfers not buying into the idea. But then there are players like world number two Rory McIlroy who is all for it. Which is quite commendable since the Northern Irishman is by far the biggest hitter of the golf ball at present, sometimes going upwards of 320 yards. So he is going to suffer most but the 34-year-old doesn’t care. He is game for anything that ensures the sustainability of the game. It also reflects his confidence in his overall game.
Two-time major winner Justin Thomas and Keegan Bradley are not happy on the other hand for one reason or another. LPGA players are not happy either. The legendary Annika Sorenstam has questioned the decision, which is understandable since women golfers are going to bear the brunt of limiting distances more -- as it is they hit it shorter compared to men.
Earlier, the R&A and the USGA had planned it a little differently. They wanted the change only for elite golf, not for people who play the game for fun. But the bifurcation plan didn’t receive much support and as a result, the rule makers had to apply the rollback to all -- no one excepted, in short. However, the change for recreational golfers will come into effect from 2030.
"Governance is not the easiest thing in the world to do, especially in golf. But we have a responsibility to the long-term future of the game and we have to be cognizant of our environmental responsibility. We can't keep making golf courses longer and it isn't just the courses that tour golf is played on. You see this growth in distance right through elite amateur golf down to junior level," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers told BBC Sport.
Since the rule makers have managed to convince both the important tours, it’s an indication their argument had a lot of weight to it. Particularly, the bit that touches on it being environment friendly. If everything else doesn’t make sense to the critics of the rollback, it being eco-friendly should strike a chord with them. The world is facing a massive environmental crisis. Every step, no matter how small it is, should be supported and embraced wholeheartedly.