Ever expanding drive distances on the PGA Tour


A couple of my readers today have said I’m wrong and that distance is not the biggest factor impacting the PGA Tour. I find that hard to fathom, considering the average driving distance has increased from 260 yards in 1993 to 288 in 2003, a 10% gain in 10 years.

My main point is the impact this is having on classic golf courses — just look at The Old Course, where the R&A have had to move some tees back dramatically just to bring bunkers back into play. Bobby Jones may have hit some big drives, as did past legends like Ben Hogan, but both players had to contend with the placement of bunkers on classic courses — and not simply bomb their drives over them like Tiger Woods did the last time he was at St. Andrews. The distance the golf ball travels is the No.1 issue facing professional golf, in my estimation. It is limiting the great courses that are available to the game, like Merion or even Riviera, and replacing it with the typical dull, uninspired work the Tour tees it up on week after week. Why do people tune into the AT&T or the Nissan? Part of it is certainly due to the courses, two of the best on the circuit, and if they can’t handle the crazy distances players are driving the ball, then the tour might have to skip them. That might be more than pro golf — not always the most exciting game these days — can handle.

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Jeff Lancaster

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • If distance is the biggest thing facing professional golf these days, then golf is doing A-OK.

    The rules limit how far a ball can travel and how hard a club can hit it. The physical advances and course conditions have affected driving distances.

    What impact has driving really had on scoring, since scoring – and now how far you hit it – matters most?

    We’ve got a fairly big article coming up on the distance the ball travels in the next few days. Suffice to say I disagree with your assessment.

  • Erik,

    I’m awaiting the sandtrap article, but based on your comments it doesn’t sound very promising.

    While the rules do limit the ball and club potential (in some esoteric physical manner), I think many golf commentators believe this limit is set too high. Thusly, some of the inherent value of the game is being lost in an abyss of technological advance.

    On it’s face, your statement that “rules limit how far a ball can travel and how hard a club can hit it” is false. Try again.

    In regards to your garbled question about scoring, here’s a quick analysis I did:

    Scoring AVG


    #1 – Calvin Peete – 70.56
    #75 – Larry Nelson – 71.98
    #125 – David Ogrin – 72.84


    #1 – Vijay Singh – 68.84
    #75 – Brian Bateman – 70.95
    #125 – Greg Chalmers – 71.39

    While I won’t and can’t give an in-depth analysis of these numbers, its obvious after glancing at them that scoring has been affected by something in the past 20 years.

    Speculating quickly, I’d say that the lengthening of courses checks modern physical conditioning. Therefore, technology must have played some instrumental role in the lowering of scores.

  • I think most of the reason for the increased distance is that today’s golfers are much stonger and fit utilizing highly efficient golf swings tuned with video equipment.

    Give Tiger a Pinnacle distance ball from 20 years ago with a driver from that era and I bet he still drives it over 300 yds.

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