Bill Campbell Calls Increasing Driving Yardages “Indefensible”

Bill Campbell, the only person to have served as USGA president and captain of the R&A, told members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects at the group’s recent Donald Ross Dinner in Pittsburgh that “recent, ongoing increases in driving yardage seem to be exponential and are indefensible and not in the game’s best interests.”

After receiving the 2003 Donald Ross Award from the Society, the former USGA and R&A official said his remarks were personal and did not reflect the view of either organization.

“How about a new ball for everyone that would reduce driving distances for the long hitters without hurting the rest of us much, if at all?” Campbell asked. “For years I’ve heard that such a ball is feasible, but I haven’t seen one yet. This solution would make moot even short-term bifurcation, as everyone would play the same ball.”

Campbell admitted that “the rub is that, in the real world, the latest technologically enhanced ball construction and dimples configuration, with less backspin and better high-launch trajectory, are prominent among the factors having a dramatic effect on long-hitting—and not just be a yearly yard or two, as in the 1990s.”

Campbell sees the game of golf changing dramatically in a very short period. "The size of the problem is manifestly in the distances that the long-hitters are driving the modern ball. I don’t mean just Tour-average statistics, but rather stats for the longer Tour hitters when using drivers. It is apparent that most par-5 holes are now easily reachable in two shots by most Tour pros and top amateurs, and even by some college and school team players; and that longish par-4’s have become drive-and-pitch opportunities for many, and lesser par-4’s are drivable by some. Unless and until something is done about it, this trend will continue. How can this be good for the game? Must top-rated courses extend to 8,000 or more yards? And then, what next?”

Campbell, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, then called for immediate action. “Since the status quo is actually a moving target, something should be done to fix it ASAP. I am impatient by nature, and now by age, that the game e preserved as we have known it, based on one’s all-around skills, that classic courses not be rendered obsolete, and that golf course architects not have to design longer and longer tests or else trick courses up to ‘protect their integrity”— a well-worn euphemism for preserving the difficulty of their par. To me, ever-more acreage for ever-longer and wider courses isn’t justifiable on any grounds, nor should you have to adulterate your professional standards of proper course design and setup.”

Campbell notes that “specific alternatives to lengthening and widening courses obviously include making normal courses play harder by over-narrowing fairways, toughening roughs, deepening and adding bunkers, enlarging water hazards, etc., and my pet peeve, by making greens unduly hard and fast— too slick for their slopes as originally designed—compounded by making tighter hole locations. Far better than such draconian measures, I submit, would be simply a shorter ball, especially since otherwise the yardage dilemma would recur time and time again.”

The great amateur player concluded with a warning to his Donald Ross audience. “I’ve seen heard and read enough anecdotal and other evidence that I trust my general impression of what is actually happening ‘out there,’ and how to deal with it. In a nutshell, the phenomenon of this eye-catching, longer-hitting trend— caused by new balls and clubs as well as stronger players, all-out swing instruction and modern agronomy—is more easily corrected by just shortening the ball, i.e. putting a governor on it. Though politically challenging, this cure isn’t rocket science or U.N. diplomacy. The issue cries out for concerted attention, resolve and action—all with a sense of urgency. The clock is ticking louder my friends—and not just for me.”

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