The world of golf is changing — but that’s nothing new! Dating back to the time of Julius Caesar, it’s far older than many popular sports like basketball, football, or baseball. And as its popularity has grown, technological advancements have grown right alongside it. That includes the clubs, the balls, and of course, the golf course length.
The frenetic pace of change in golf doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon. But before you know what’s changed, you need to know where it all started.
The first thing to note is that, even though golf was around as far back as 100 B.C., its first iterations would be unrecognizable to most fans today.
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It involved hitting a ball stuffed with feathers with tree branches shaped like clubs, which is a far cry from the Mitsubishi Diamana D+ Plus 70.
And while golf evolved, its courses got even longer.
Golf course length
Arguably the most essential element of the game, golf course lengths have had to grow with the game, too. Back in 1980, only six golfers could manage 270 yards from a tee shot.
Now, most professionals can net a cool 290. For context, an average golfer can do about 200.
So that means courses have been getting longer and longer as pros improve their swings. Now the average PGA Tour course length is 7,200 yards! Some even fear that these distances can pose a danger to others because no one wants to get hit with a ball from Tiger Woods from 300 yards away.
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Of course, 7,200 is just the average. The shortest course on the 2018-2019 PGA Tour was the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at 6,816 yards. The longest one was Farmer’s Insurance Open Torrey Pines Course at 7,698 yards.
And according to GolfShake, the longest course in the world is located at the Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club in Lijiang, China at a whopping 8,548 yards. All but the most experienced golfers would probably throw their back out trying to finish that one!
Most average players will never encounter a golf course length that intense, but it goes to show how difficult it’s been to keep up with a rapidly changing industry.
Par lengths have also been on the rise. Par is the number of strokes a first-class player should normally need for a hole or course. And even if you’ve never golfed before, you know that “subpar” means “not enough.”
With golfers hitting the ball farther, they’re getting much more mileage from their tee-offs than they used to. That means the number of strokes they need to reach par is going down. And that has caused clubs and organizations to increase par length.
Basically, for pars three, four, and five, a pro golfer is expected to need one, two, and three strokes to reach the green, respectively. The reason they’re numbered that way is because you should finish up with two putts to sink your ball.
That will bring your total to three, four, and five strokes.
For example, in 1911 a par 3 was 225 yards, with a slight increase to 250 by 2019. Par 4 was a bigger change during those same years, from 425 yards to 470.
The most dramatic shift was in par 5, which went from 600 yards in 1911 to 690 by 2019!
40 Years of Drive
All this is not to say that the trajectory of golf has always been up. Though drive is one of the big factors in increasing golf course length, it’s had its own twists and turns as well.
Let’s start with 1980 as a baseline, when the average drive distance was 256.89 yards. The next year saw a huge improvement in drive distances, up to 259.66, almost 3 yards more. But that wouldn’t last.
The year 1982 was the same as 1980 and then averages improved slowly over the rest of the decade, with a slight dip at the end.
Starting in 1993, player averages never dipped below 260 again, and robustly increased every single year. Drive lengths peaked at 2009, with 288.07 as the average drive length.
But 2011 was the first year that averages broke 290 yards, and since 2015, they’ve never fallen below that number.
What the data tells us is that, while golf’s upswing has gone up and down, it’s on a solid upward trajectory. That leads many fans, commentators, and pro golfers themselves to wonder what driving lengths upper limit truly is because it has to have one.
Beefing up — How Equipment Is Changing the Game and Course Length
Let’s not kid ourselves. Golfers aren’t just getting better — equipment is, too! And some of the stuff on the market today can really make a crucial difference in your game.
Get in your hole
According to Vox, the conversation about the role of golf balls has been raging on for nearly 100 years. However, it’s undeniable that recent advancements have greatly influenced the game.
For example, the Titleist Pro V1 is a killer invention — a golf ball that combines a solid core and wound ball to create an unstoppable product that can fly far with a high degree of accuracy.
Not having to choose means that golfers get the best of both worlds when it comes to mowing down the golf course length.
Remember that spike in driving lengths in the mid-1990s? According to Popular Mechanics, it was right around that time that lightweight graphite-shaft clubs — previously popular only with women and senior golfers — caught the attention of the golf’s elites, and they became a mainstay of the game.
As you might imagine, some of these advancements make the golfing establishment pretty nervous! But besides that, games that are too easy are bad for everyone — the golfers, the fans, and the clubs.
They’re not as fun to play, they’re not as fun to watch, and they’re not as easy to make money off of.
In 2018, the United States Golf Association and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews released a joint study that noted these increases in driving distances. They called it “unusual and concerning.“
However, the organizations didn’t implement any immediate rule changes as a result.
The obvious fix, namely increasing golf course lengths, wouldn’t be perfect. The organizations noted that some golf courses could become more resources intensive. That means the more money you have, the better your score. And this could have unfortunate implications for local golfing clubs.
Both the USGA and R&A said they’re monitoring the situation closely, and that it requires further evaluation.
Even though organizations are worried about increasing the driving distance at the professional level, it doesn’t seem to be a concern for the majority of golfers.
One study even found that, for 99 percent of golfers, distance rates are flat or declining.
One proposed solution is devastatingly simple — harder courses. As opposed to increasing the golf course length, making a more challenging course design could negate the effects of high-powered equipment altogether.
This solution would make sure that skill, rather than power, is the essential asset to getting the ball into the hole.
The Cycle of Change
Golf has been through many changes in the past 100 years, and will likely go through many more. It’s a game that requires patience and skill.
And though the changes to golf course length, clubs, and golf balls seem dramatic, it’s important to remember that the heart of the game lives on, no matter what form it takes in the future.
What are your thoughts on the changes to the game? Let us know in the comments!