Acushnet, the No. 1 ball company and parent company of Titleist and its Pro V1 and Pro V1x, the most played balls in professional golf, weighed in Monday night on the USGA’s annual distance report, maintaining its long-held position that current equipment rules are effective and that recent distance increases are not cause for new restrictions.
While most manufacturers stayed on the sidelines since the distance report was released Monday morning, Acushnet released its own assessment of the study and suggested the comparative one-year gains need to be viewed in a context that goes beyond the numbers listed in the ruling bodies’ presentation released Monday morning.
“As a leader in the golf equipment industry, our team is conditioned to evaluate data to best understand contributing factors and root causes,” said David Maher, Acushnet CEO and president. “It is with this intent that we analyzed the 2017 Distance Report, and our findings continue to support the fact that equipment regulations have been effective.
“A closer look into the numbers in the Report underscores the complexity of making any meaningful year-to-year comparisons. There were several contributing variables in 2017, including course selection and set-up, agronomical conditions and weather, which need to be considered when assessing the data.”
Among the observations in the Acushnet statement:
Driving distance at the 33 PGA Tour events conducted at the same venue in 2016 and 2017, “the average driving distance increased only 0.5 yards” (the overall increase in the average cited in the USGA report was 2.5 yards). The Acushnet statement notes that at the eight events held at new venues in 2017, “the average distance increased 8.0 yards.”
The Acushnet statement also highlights that of those 33 PGA Tour events, “15 tournaments had a decline in average driving distance with one event flat to prior year. This highlights the year to year variability in distance.”
The Acushnet analysis also said that driving distance at the major championships “represented one-third of the total average driving distance gained in 2017,” noting a 20.4-yard year-over-year increase at the U.S. Open, an 8.1-yard increase at the Open Championship and a 7.0-yard increase at the PGA Championship. It also pointed to a 0.4-yard decline in the driving distance average at the Masters. The Acushnet review cited weather as a factor overlooked in the USGA’s distance study.
The Acushnet study also raised a deeper clarification of the driving distance increase on the PGA Tour’s Web.com developmental tour. In 2017, the Web.com Tour became the first professional tour tracked in the ruling bodies’ Distance Report to crack the 300-yard barrier in its year-end average. The 302.9-yard average in 2017 was a 6.9-yard boost compared to 2016.
The Acushnet report notes that “of the 25 Web.com graduates in 2016, 24 had shorter average driving distance on the 2017 PGA Tour, with an average decrease of 6.6 yards. For the years 2015 to 2017, 74 of the 75 graduates had shorter average driving distance on the PGA Tour the following year. This can be attributed to course set-up.”
While the USGA’s Distance Report cites record-setting average driving distances across all men’s tours and states “this level of increase across so many tours in a single season is unusual and concerning and requires closer inspection,” Acushnet’s Maher said when viewed in context, the numbers in 2017 across all tours are not a cause for alarm.
“In any given year there are variables that impact distance, and any movement as in 2017 is not suddenly indicative of a harmful trend,” he said. “We continue to believe equipment innovation has benefitted golfers at all levels, and our analysis of the 2017 Distance Report affirms that the USGA and The R&A have effective regulations in place to ensure the game’s health and sustainability. We look forward to continued dialogue with the governing bodies and stakeholders as we seek to position the great game of golf for future success.”
Acushnet has consistently argued for restraint and more open dialog between the ruling bodies and manufacturers over equipment rules-making for the last two decades. Its position is even detailed through a 58-page “Tradition and Technology” document posted on its website. Among its main points is the idea that, “Technology has always been part of the game’s enduring traditions. The growth of the game has been a byproduct of the continuing and ever-present balance between tradition and technology.”