The R&A and USGA have introduced a new local rule to ensure professionals and elite amateurs do not use 48-inch driver shafts
Golf’s governing bodies, the R&A and the USGA, have announced a new restriction on driver shaft lengths aimed to stop the increased hitting lengths in professional golf.
From 1st January, a new Model Local Rule will be in place where organisers of professional or elite amateur tournaments can limit the maximum club shaft length, excluding putters, to 46 inches.
A Model Local Rule allows tournament organisers to introduce certain Rules for certain competitions or courses.
Whilst this isn’t mandatory, it will likely be put in use by the likes of the PGA and European Tours, USGA, R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and the PGA of America who have been in discussions with the governing bodies.
The idea of the 46-inch limit was proposed in February and the governing bodies have since been discussing it with the entire golf industry, including players, professional tours and equipment manufacturers.
One high-profile player who was critical of the proposal was six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson who described it as “pathetic.”
Whilst Mickelson appeared to be referring to both professionals and amateurs, this new Model Local Rule only applies to professionals and elite amateurs.
This means that regular amateur golfers can continue using driver shafts of up to 48 inches.
This could be seen as the first real step to bifurcation, where amateurs and professionals play by different rules.
The R&A and USGA have been keen to reduce hitting lengths in professional golf for some time now, having previously said that increased hitting distances are “detrimental to the future of the game.”
Longer distances and courses are ‘taking golf in the wrong direction and not necessary for a challenging, enjoyable and sustainable game,’ the R&A and USGA Distance Insights Report said in 2020.
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Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said of the new Model Local Rule to limit shaft lengths, “We have taken time to consult fully with the golf industry, including players, the main professional tours and equipment manufacturers, and have considered their feedback carefully.
“We believe this is the right thing for the game at this time and it will provide tournament organisers with the flexibility to choose for themselves within the framework of the Rules.
“We are working hard to maintain an open, collaborative and considered dialogue with these key stakeholders as we continue to evolve the Equipment Standards Rules to ensure they reflect the modern game.”
Mike Whan, Chief Executive Officer of the USGA, said, “We’ve worked closely with our industry partners to ensure the future for golf remains strong.
“Admittedly, this is not the ‘answer’ to the overall distance debate/issue but rather a simple option for competitive events.
“It’s important to note that it is not a ‘Rule of Golf,’ and as such, it is not mandated for the average, recreational golfer.
“Rather, this is an available tool for those running competitive events.”
Along with the driver shaft lengths, in February the governing bodies also proposed changes to the testing method for golf balls and the testing for tolerance of the spring-like effect.
Both are still under consideration and decisions will be made after 2nd November.
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