Golf can no longer afford borderlessness
A commentary by Petra Himmel on the decision by the USGA and R&A to introduce a ball limit in the elite players’ division from 2026.
Finally, the length madness has come to an end.
A drive by Rory McIlroy usually flies more than 300 meters. It passes a fairway that is watered, fertilized and mowed by greenkeepers. All of these are resources that are either scarce or expensive, sometimes both. The smaller the terrain Rory McIlroy uses, the fewer resources he consumes, the smaller the golf course’s CO₂ footprint.
That’s why today’s decision by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the R&A to limit ball flight at the elite level is excellent. In fact, the press conference of the two associations was the first in my more than 25 years in golf in which the sustainability factor came up several times.
“We’re thinking about what golf can look like in 20 years” – Mike Whan’s statement as CEO of the USGA shows that the golf industry is finally about more than multi-million dollar prize money and fun games. In view of scarce resources and rising prices, the long-term economic survival of many golf courses worldwide is at stake. There is also the question of whether non-golfers view golf as a sustainable sport.
My favourite line of today’s press conference, by the way, came from Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A: “We’re emphasizing the fact that golf is a game of skill.” How true.
Enjoying golf means more than just panting for length. This is true not only for the professional, but also for the fan. If you don’t believe it, an afternoon on the 9th green of Augusta National GC at the US Masters proves otherwise. What could be more exciting than a ball that slowly picks up speed at the top of the green, runs past the hole and then leaves the green again? How many top players have failed here….
The decision on the new ball rule will be much discussed. But what do we expect from the governing bodies of golf? That they make decisions that are sometimes unpopular because they are uncomfortable and put an end to the current trend.
The sustainability debate is constantly about nothing else: new rules that create boundaries because no one can afford boundlessness anymore. Neither do we golfers.