R&A warned ball-change proposals could harm women’s game

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The R&A has been warned that proposals which would result in women players using golf balls different to their male counterparts risk being “viewed very negatively at a time when we are all trying to promote women’s golf”.

The radical plan, which are set to be introduced in just over two-years time, designed to limit the lengths male pros are hitting, would feature a Model Local Rule restricting the type of ball used in elite competition, but which would not affect recreational players.

However, the PGA of America – which as well as organising the Ryder Cup also oversees the US PGA Championship – has, as part of the World Alliance of PGAs, joined the PGA Tour in opposing the changes.

In revealing the long-awaited overhaul, the R&A in conjunction with the US Golf Association indicated that the female Tours and majors could carry on under the existing rules. But on the eve of the Women’s Open that begins at Walton Heath on Thursday – and is run by the R&A – the PGA Alliance sent the governing bodies a provocative memo stating its objections.

While remaining respectful in its tone, the message was simple, all but demanding the R&A and USGA to “push back the roll back… significantly past the currently contemplated dates”. As well as doubting the accuracy of the data in the official jointly-commissioned research, the PGAs also referenced the R&A’s recently-released findings into the continued uptick in worldwide participation.

“Golf is currently benefiting from a global surge in interest and participation,” the letter reads. “We fear the proposed changes could seriously interrupt this momentum and be fundamentally dangerous and detrimental in the long run.”

The PGA Alliance stance is notable because the PGA of America is influential in the group and two of the other male majors – The Open run by the R&A, the US Open run by the USGA – are obviously supportive of the action that would effectively reduce driving distances for the biggest hitters by up to 15 yards.

And the Augusta greenjackets that run the Masters have all but extended their backing to the plans. So just when peace is supposedly being negotiated between the PGA Tour and the Saudi funders of LIV Golf, so another battlefront opens.

The DPW World Tour is due to announce its own feedback in the consultation period before Monday’s deadline, but is widely expected to row in behind its PGA Tour counterparts with which Wentworth HQ shares its own “strategic alliance”.

How the R&A and USGA will react to the strengthening of opposition remains to be seen, although they are – after so many years if not decades of procrastination – determined to act to arrest the relentless increase in distance that has already rendered classic courses as obsolete at the same time as multiplying environmental concerns and threatening to make the game too one-dimensional.

The governing bodies have tried via the MLR route to ensure it is a smooth, friendly revamp, but this resistance has opened up the possibility of the R&A and USGA forcing through overarching changes that would be carried out for the entire sport.

The Tours and PGAs would have no choice but to follow suit in that scenario, although there would be plenty of bloodletting in that strong-handed process. However, at last month’s Open Championship at Hoylake, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers sounded ready for the fight.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said. “We’ve put forward a targeted and proportionate measure to address a complex issue, which we believe is key to preserving the inherent challenge of golf and to ensuring that it has a sustainable future.”

In a statement, the R&A reacted to the PGA World Alliance’s comments. “We are currently in a notice and comment period where we are listening to views from throughout the golf industry. We appreciate the contributions we have received so far,” it said.

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