In a move that is about as unsurprising as it is full-throated, the Acushnet chief executive, parent of the Titleist and FootJoy brands, announced his company’s opposition to the R&A and USGA’s contention that the “cycle of distance increases” in golf must come to an end.
“…we believe the conclusions drawn in this report undervalue the skill and athleticism of the game’s very best players and focus far too much on the top of the men’s professional game and project this on golf and golfers as a whole,” reads the statement from David Maher, Acushnet’s president and chief executive.
“Furthermore, we believe that existing equipment regulations effectively govern the prospects of any significant increases in hitting distance by the game’s longest hitters.”
Maher’s 686-word position paper, titled “A Perspective on the Distance Insights Report”, is the first from a major golf company chief executive to explicitly counter the ruling bodies’ conclusions from their Distance Insights research project, announced on February 4. In that announcement and subsequent press conference, the organisations detailed their desire to curb how far tee shots fly.
“We believe that this continuing cycle of increases is undesirable and detrimental to golf’s long-term future,” the report’s 16-page Conclusions document reads.
“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end.”
The Acushnet chief executive’s statement indicated the ruling bodies’ position failed to account for the benefits to the game from innovation. Rather than reducing the skill needed to play the game, Maher said equipment technology fuels the enthusiasm for the game for beginners as well as the top players in the game.
“Like all sports, golf is played differently today than it was centuries, and even decades, ago – from the people who play, the rules by which we play, and the equipment we use,” he said. “Almost all would agree this progress has been a great benefit to the game and that innovation in golf equipment has been an important contributor to this progress. Golf is bringing younger players into the game sooner and keeping older players longer than ever; professional golf is as dynamic and entertaining as it’s ever been; and the game remains a healthy challenge for all players and at all levels.”
Maher noted the ruling bodies were “acting in what they believe to be the game’s best interests” but said the current equipment standards are sufficiently keeping distance in check.
“The ability to consistently achieve distance with accuracy, and convert this into low scores, remains a special and elusive skill,” Maher said. “In fact, the report itself shows that hitting distance on the PGA Tour decreased in six of the past 13 years, including 2019. We believe this helps to affirm the effectiveness of regulatory efforts, particularly those adopted since the early 2000s, which continue to achieve their desired intent of setting boundaries around future distance increases while also rewarding skill and encouraging innovation.”
Maher’s statement also endorsed one set of rules, taking a position his predecessor, Wally Uihlein, made almost exactly seven years ago in an essay titled “The Case for Unification”. Today, Maher was reacting negatively to the suggestion that the ruling bodies would consider extending the use of a local rule requiring equipment that produced shorter hitting distances. Though USGA chief executive Mike Davis endorsed a commitment to one set of rules, he said “the concept of the local rule goes back to the 1700s and allows courses or tournament committees to have flexibility where it makes sense”. Maher said a local rule restricting equipment would not be a positive for the game.
“We believe playing by a unified set of rules coalesces our game, is an essential part of its global understanding and appeal, and eliminates the inconsistency and instability that would come from multiple sets of equipment standards,” he said.
USGA officials were unavailable for comment.