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When golf balls go too far…

Three hundred and thirty-one meters. On March 9, during the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Florida (USA), golfer Rory McIlroy, world No. 2, drove a distance that still seemed unimaginable a few decades earlier. Like the Northern Irishman, more and more players on the tour today are making tee shots well over 300 yards. “At the end of the 1980s, the bullet fallout was at 220, 240 meters”, explains golf course architect Michel Niedbala. And the latter to argue: “If the courses become doable in sixty shots [au lieu d’environ 72], it is no longer of any interest. »

As a direct result of these more powerful strikes, many courses are becoming almost obsolete. To anticipate this eventuality, the Masters, in Augusta (Georgia), the first major tournament of the year (from April 6 to 9), did not hesitate to buy adjacent land to lengthen the distance separating the holes and to build departures more distant. “Professionals now play on courses that are a thousand meters longer than thirty years ago [celui d’Augusta fait 6 799 mètres]notes Stuart Hallett, also an architect. It is not a permanent solution. »

The emblematic competition is not the only one faced with this problem, but rare are the events welcoming the golf elite to have sufficient land space. “Those who can extend their route, but it no longer corresponds to the initial strategic willexhibits Michel Niedbala, who built the Roissy golf course (Val-d’Oise). The others add obstacles to give enough difficulty, and, again, it does not respect the original design. »

Finding the “essence” of golf

The case is not new. Already in 1977, Jack Nicklaus, considered one of the best players of all time, who became a golf architect after his retirement from sport, warned of the increase in drive distances. But it took thirty years for the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient (R & A), which organizes the British Open, to take up the matter. In the wake of a joint report, published in 2020, USGA CEO Mike Davis acknowledged that “this continuous cycle (…) harms the future of the game in the long term”.

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Decision is then made to limit the technological progress of the equipment. In 2022, the maximum driver size is reduced from 48 to 46 inches, or 4 centimeters less, in order to create less speed. On March 14, the USGA and R & A proposed, moreover, the use of new balls, which would limit the length of strikes to around fifteen to twenty meters. To do this, the speed of the tester robot, which is used to check that a ball does not cross the maximum authorized distance – 317 yards (+ 3 yards of tolerance), or approximately 290 meters –, will increase from 120 to 127 mph ( 193 to 204 km/h). “We increase the swing speed by 11.25 km/h while keeping the same ball distance limitation. It is therefore necessary to use bullets that are a little less dynamic and powerful »simplifies the former professional player Julien Xanthopoulos.

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