The battle lines are being drawn in a cold war of sorts that's forming in the golf equipment world.
After the USGA and R&A shared their 2017 golf ball distance report and expressed concerns over a nearly 3-yard increase in average driving distance across major professional golf tours last year, several of golf's other important stakeholders pushed back on the joint report's findings and the announced need for more study of distance gains and its causes.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the organization reviewed the report and doesn't believe the golf ball is the foil for distance increases, citing younger, faster, more athletic players as a large reason for the 2017 hike.
The PGA of America came out in opposition to a roll back in equipment limits not yet even proposed by the USGA and R&A, saying their view was rolling back equipment standards would negatively impact the recreational golfer's enjoyment of the game.
Former Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein also spoke to Score Golf in Canada, sharing his long-held dispute with traditionalists who are in favor of some kind of equipment rollback or a splitting off of equipment and playing rules between recreational golfers and professionals or high amateurs.
Titleist shared their official thoughts on the matter, saying in part, “In any given year there are variables that impact distance, and any movement as in 2017 is not suddenly indicative of a harmful trend.” The company believes the existing USGA and R&A equipment standards are sufficient to support both recreational and championship-level golfers.
Now TaylorMade Golf Company has offered their thoughts, expressing their objection to any potential equipment rollback or bifurcation of the Rules of Golf. In a statement, company CEO David Abeles said:
“We have meticulously reviewed the USGA and R&A’s 2017 Distance Report and discussed its findings with key stakeholders. Additionally, we have carefully considered the inferred implications that the study may have on the game moving forward. The TaylorMade Golf Company firmly opposes any potential rollback of product performance or bifurcation of the rules in any form as we believe these movements will be detrimental to the game at every level.
We are optimistic about golf’s future and we believe that the growth initiatives our industry has invested in are beginning to drive participation momentum in our sport. Any separation from the rules or any step backward in performance would be disadvantageous to the growth of the game. For millions of golfers of all skill levels, we believe innovation and technology lead to better performance, and better performance brings more joy to the game for all who play it.
As the discussion around bifurcation and rollback formalizes, we look forward to having a seat at the table to lend our voice. Until then, we will continue to create the best performing products for all golfers.”
There's a reasonable expectation more equipment manufacturers and golf stakeholders will weigh in with their views. It would seem natural for equipment companies, whose existence is centered on pushing the boundaries of golf equipment performance, to be opposed to a rollback. It would also be logical for those companies to not support bifurcation, as it would require them to make wholly separate equipment for professional and high-amateur golfers, while not being able to market that limited equipment to recreational players through their paid staffers on pro golf tours.
So far, one major equipment maker has come out in support of a potential bifurcation of the Rules of Golf and equipment standards. In a November 2017 interview with Golf.com, Bridgestone Golf president and CEO Angel Ilagan said, "As it relates to the Tour...there needs to be something to standardize [the ball] because the guys are hitting it way too long."
Who speaks up next?