Golf’s powers-that-be made a very big announcement on Tuesday about one of the most politically charged topics in the golf industry: The question of whether its time to roll back the golf ball.

If you didn’t know or realise what was happening, then let me send a heartfelt congratulations to you. It means you’re probably enjoying a normal existence as an avid golfer, but informed enough to read an article like this, and learn.

I, sadly, am not one of those people. I’m so in the weeds I could do with some weed killer. But that’s good news for you, because it means I can give you a brief overview so when the topic comes up at your local club, you’ll know the basics.

Before we even get going: No, this isn’t going to affect you, and any golfer it does affect won’t be affected until 2026.

Ok, let’s get into it…

What are we talking about?
The latest update on a potential golf ball rollback.

What’s that?
It’s the idea that a golf ball goes too far, and needs new rules to make it go shorter.

Why do people think that the golf ball goes too far?
Not all people, just some people.

Why do some people think that the golf ball goes too far?
Because over the years golf equipment had got more and more advanced (think about the shift from wooden to metal drivers, for instance) until basically the mid 2000s, when equipment companies started bumping into the ceiling of what they were allowed to do. Bumping into that ceiling did slow down players’ distance gained, but it didn’t flatline them like they thought would happen.

Why not?
Mainly because equipment companies and players are super smart, and keep figuring out ways to innovate in other areas. Different materials on the equipment side, for instance, or smarter training techniques on the player-coaching side.

Why is this a problem?
Well, not everyone thinks it is.

Why do some people think this is a problem?
Mainly because it means in response, golf courses need to get longer in order to avoid becoming obsolete and keep up with the modern game, often past the point where they can (AKA, they literally start running out of space). It also means they trick up the course in other ways, like getting the greens super fast, which slows pace of play and makes the game a little silly.

What does the other side think?
It’s sort of a mind-your-own-business mindset. That long drives make for an entertaining product to watch, that players hitting it longer is the product of various innovations that should be celebrated not derided, and that it’s backwards to shape the future of the game around the idea that a golf course from a different era should be as relevant in the future as it was in the past.

Where do you stand on the issue?
Personally, I’m skeptical that a rollback rule can be implemented well, but this isn’t about me. It’s about you.

That’s a bit of a cop-out answer, but anyway, what happened?
After years and years of deliberation, the USGA and R&A said they were planning on implementing a potential new local rule that would change the way they test golf balls which, in practice, would chop an estimated 15-to-30 yards of driving distance off the top of golf’s longest hitters. Effectively, it brings us back to the late 90s.

Wait! I don’t hit the golf ball very far though, why am I getting punished?
Good news! You’re not. The powers-that-be were adamant that they didn’t want to and won’t impact the recreational golfer. They’ve designed the potential local rule so it can be adopted at-will by any organisation that runs tournaments, and that it’s intended only for “elite” male players, because the governing bodies didn’t see evidence of a distance problem in the women’s game. It effectively amounts to bifurcation.

It means a different set of rules for amateurs and pros, just like your high school baseball team uses metal bats and the major leaguers use wooden ones. Golf historically has stayed away from large-scale bifurcation, but here we are.

Could I play the pro ball even if I’m not that good?
I mean sure, the same way you could swing an extra stiff shaft. It may well turn out that whatever new golf ball comes out of this affects higher-speed tour golfers while the rest of us don’t really notice the difference. Though we’re just speculating now.

So if it’s not affecting me, who will adopt these new rules?
We’re starting to veer into the unknown realm of speculation now. In the press conference about the potential new local rule, the USGA and R&A heavily implied they would implement the local rule in its championships. “Yes,” was R&A chief Martin Slumbers’ exact answer in response to a question about it.

Does that mean it’ll adopt it for local qualifiers?
Unclear, but probably not.

What about elite events like the US Amateur?
Even more unclear.

What about tournaments run by other organisations, like the NCAA and PGA Tour?
Also more unclear.

It seems like you’re pulling me into the weeds with all this.
You’re right, let’s back up.

Ryan Pierse

So what’s next then?
The USGA and R&A have to go around and get feedback from everyone on their idea now, which probably means a lot of getting yelled at from tour players and equipment companies, who generally don’t like the idea.
By the end of the year they’ll decide on whether to go through with it, with or without changes, and if they do, it’ll go into effect on “Jan 1, 2026”.

Got it, any closing thoughts?
Well, I guess thank you for reading all this, if you still are.

Let’s not get too personal, meant more specifically on the rollback thing.
I can’t shake this gut feeling that, because people generally hate messy and confusing things, it’ll end up organising itself once one domino starts to fall.
If the majors adopt the new ball, players may want the tour to adopt it, too, because they don’t want to have to switch back-and-forth between the two.
Of course, it could also go the other way. Players and equipment companies could really hate the idea to the extend that the tours refuse to adopt it, and the sole holdouts are the majors, creating a game of chicken that I’m not sure how it’d end.
All of which is to say, we’ll have to wait and see!