CONFIRMED: R&A, USGA announce golf ball bifurcation plans for 2026

The R&A and USGA have announced proposals to combat the biggest hitters by giving tournament organisers the option of using a distance-reducing golf ball.

CONFIRMED: R&A, USGA announce golf ball bifurcation plans for 2026
CONFIRMED: R&A, USGA announce golf ball bifurcation plans for 2026

The R&A and USGA have formally announced plans for elite golfers to use specially adapted golf balls that will not fly as far.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the governing bodies that write golf's rule book stated it is hoped the plans will be adopted across elite golf in 2026. 

The move will reduce the length of tee shots by approximately 15 yards. There will be no change to the equipment standards at this time.

There will also be no impact on the majority of golfers. It represents the very first time that golf's rules will be bifurcated

Titleist, who makes the No.1 ball in golf with its Pro V1 franchise, has immediately hit back at the proposals in a statement, which has just been sent to GolfMagic.

Acushnet, which operates Titleist, believes "bifurcation would divide golf between elite and recreational play, add confusion, and break the linkage that is part of the game's enduring fabric."


CONFIRMED: R&A, USGA announce golf ball bifurcation plans for 2026

What, exactly, is happening? 

The R&A, which oversees the Open, and USGA, which oversees the U.S. Open, have proposed a Model Local Rule. 

It will give competition organisers the option to require use of golf balls that are tested under modified launch conditions. 

Manufacturers and golf stakeholders will have until 14 August 2023 to provide feedback. 

CONFIRMED: R&A, USGA announce golf ball bifurcation plans for 2026

What the R&A, USGA have said: 

"Golf balls that conform to the MLR must not exceed the current Overall Distance Standard (ODS) limit of 317 yards (plus three yards tolerance) at modified Actual Launch Conditions (ALC) with a clubhead speed of 127mph and based on a calibration set-up for 11 degrees and 37 revolutions per second (2220 rpm) as part of this proposal.

"All other balls, including those typically used by recreational golfers with lower swing speeds, would continue to be tested using the existing ALC values (120 mph, and a calibration set-up of 10 degrees and 42 revolutions per second – 2520 rpm).

"The current ODS limit of 317 yards will remain unchanged and would be applied to both testing set-ups.

"The Overall Distance Standard was established in 1976 as a ball test intended to reflect maximum potential hitting distance by the longest hitters currently playing the game.

"There is a direct correlation between clubhead speed and hitting distance (further research having been published in the Distance Insights reports). Over the last 20 years hitting distance has increased on average by around one yard per year. 

"The modified testing set-up in the proposed MLR is expected to reduce hitting distance by 14-15 yards on average for the longest hitters with the highest clubhead speeds."

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said:

"We have worked closely with the golf industry throughout this process and taken time to listen carefully to their perspectives and reflect on the helpful and constructive feedback they have provided. At the core of our proposal is a desire to minimise the impact on a flourishing recreational game. We believe the proposed Model Local Rule will help us move forward in a way that protects the inherent qualities of the sport and reduces the pressure to lengthen courses. This is an important issue for golf and one which needs to be addressed if the sport is to retain its unique challenge and appeal."

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Mike Whan, the chief executive of the USGA, added:

"Hitting distances at the elite level of the game have consistently increased over the past 20, 40, and 60 years. It’s been two decades since we last revisited our testing standards for ball distances. Predictable, continued increases will become a significant issue for the next generation if not addressed soon. The MLR we are proposing is simple to implement, forward-looking and does so without any impact on the recreational game. We are taking the next steps in this process, guided first and foremost by doing what's right by the entire game."

Distance has been an increasingly spoken about topic in recent years. 

Rory McIlroy is the biggest hitter on the PGA Tour this year, averaging a total distance of 326.6 yards. 

For next month's Masters, Augusta National's iconic par-five 13th hole has been extended 35 yards to 545 yards because it was judged too easy.

What do you make of this news? Don't hesitate to send us your thoughts.

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