An Expert Guide to the Golf Rollback: Which Balls Are Conforming?

Published on 04/26/2024 · 9 min readStay on par with the golf rollback: Our expert guide clarifies which golf balls conform to new regulations, helping you choose the best for compliance and performance.
Brendon Elliott, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Brendon Elliott

Photo by Jopwell

Tl;dr: The game of golf will soon be undergoing a significant change with the introduction of the golf ball rollback. This guide will explain the details of the change and help you understand what you need to know.

As a PGA of America Golf Professional, part of my duty is to ensure that golfers have fun playing the game. Part of that comes in teaching and coaching golfers on how the game is supposed to be played.

A golfer needs to know many skills to be proficient. In order to become a complete player, one must learn the full swing, short game, putting, and more. A complete golfer also needs to know about other intangibles such as equipment, course strategy, the mental game, and physical training.

The rules are relatively complex; however, in the most recent major update to the rules, the USGA and R&A did an excellent job of modernizing and simplifying them for the average player to follow.

Occasionally, the ancient game of golf undergoes needed changes. These historical moments usually pertain to the game's rules and the standards that golfers must follow when playing an official round. One of those significant changes, the golf ball rollback, was announced late last year. This Expert guide will explore the details of the golf ball rollback.

Who is the United States Golf Association (USGA) and R&A?

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The USGA (United States Golf Association) and their partners at the R&A (Royal and Ancient) are the keepers of the rules of golf. These governing bodies write, modify, interpret, enforce, and teach the rules of golf.

Although golf has been played for more than six centuries, the earliest recorded set of rules dates back to 1744. This initial code of "Articles & Laws in Playing at Golf" (currently known as the "13 Articles") was created by The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, who later became the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

That initial rendition of the rules was only meant for a single day of competition on the Leith links. However, the principles depicted in these 13 rules fundamentally describe the same sport played all over the world today.

Additionally, these organizations hold amateur and professional championships, such as the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open (The Open), and the British Amateur.

How Have Past Rule Changes Resonated In Golf?

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When rule changes have been implemented in the past, fans of the game around the globe, especially recreational golfers, have historically reacted with mixed emotions.

For example, when the powers that be decided to ban anchoring a long putter to a player's body, there was a significant outpouring of frustration among golfers who putt in this manner. Keegan Bradley and other elite pros were deeply affected by this change.

However, as mentioned earlier, the USGA and R&A did indeed do an excellent job of modernizing the rules and making them more straightforward for the average player back in 2019.

The Proposed Golf Ball Rollback: What It Is And Why It's Happening

Nothing is more important in terms of golf equipment than the golf ball. It's the one piece of gear that every shot hinges upon, and without it, the game wouldn't exist as we know it today. However, when the recent golf ball rollback movement gained steam, many golfers wondered how this would affect their game today.

First, let's go over what the golf rollback is and why it's happening.

The golf rollback is a movement that limits the distance that golf balls can travel. The idea is that modern golf balls have become too powerful, enabling golfers to hit the ball farther and farther with each passing year. This has led to longer courses, more expensive maintenance, and a less enjoyable game for many players.

Golf's long-term sustainability has become a key argument from the USGA and others who work in the golf industry regarding the ever-increasing distance the golf ball is going. Take Augusta National, for example, and all their attempts to lengthen the golf course to combat this. Augusta National has the financial means to implement course changes, but most golf courses do not.

To address this, the USGA has proposed new rules limiting the distance golf balls can travel. These rules would roll back the maximum distance of golf balls to levels seen in the early 2000s, effectively dialing back the clock on golf ball technology.

In December last year, the USGA and R&A announced that the golf ball rollback, expected to reduce driving distances on the PGA TOUR by as much as 13-15 yards, will be implemented in 2028 for the professional game. Changes will not occur until 2030 for the recreational game, and amateurs will see a much lesser degree of impact, with a maximum loss of only 5-7 yards.

While the USGA and R&A have announced the rule change is coming, there is still considerable time before this happens. According to data from the USGA, this rollback would result in only five yards or less lost per drive in the amateur game.

Some of the game's elite players, such as Rory McIlroy, have been vocal on social media about their desire to see a dialing back of the ball, but many TOUR players are opposed to the rollback.

At last year's Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods said the following: “We’ve been hammering the point, The ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career, and here we are...I told you guys: I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats in baseball.”

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Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA, said the following in the announcement back in December of last year: “Governance is hard. And while thousands will claim that we did too much, there will be just as many who said we didn’t do enough to protect the game long-term...But from the very beginning, we’ve been driven to do what is right for the game without bias. As we’ve said, doing nothing is not an option – and we would be failing in our responsibility to protect the game’s future if we didn’t take appropriate action now.”

There is no denying that the game's future could indeed be at stake without appropriate action. This golf ball rollback could be the path to sustainability for golf.

The Bifurcation Debate

The bifurcation debate in golf refers to having different rules and equipment standards for professionals and amateurs. Specifically regarding equipment, the discussion revolves around using various types of golf balls and clubs for professionals and amateurs. The argument in favor of bifurcation is that it could help address concerns about the distance golf balls travel and its impact on the game.

Opponents argue that it would create two different games, with professionals using different equipment than amateurs, which would be confusing and ultimately detrimental to the sport.

The reality, at least in my opinion, is that there is already a drastic difference between professionals and amateur golfers. PGA TOUR radar data proves that professionals have much different swing speeds, spin rates, launch angle numbers, and hitting distances than the average golfer. Simply put, the ball's yardage in the professional world is much different than in the amateur world.

Professional golfers must follow the rules, and amateurs who play recreationally can choose to follow them. With a big difference between both camps already, perhaps bifurcation is a logical answer.

What Golf Balls Still Conform to The Rules of The Game?

The short answer is that any ball that meets the USGA's current standards is still legal to use on the course. However, it's important to understand what those standards are and how they might change in the near future.

According to the USGA, more than 30% of currently conforming golf balls would still conform to the new standards once they go into effect in 2028 and 2030.

Currently, in terms of golf ball conformance, the USGA has specific rules regarding the size, weight, and construction of golf balls. For example, golf balls must be between 1.68 and 1.62 inches in diameter and weigh no more than 1.620 ounces. They must also be constructed with a single core and a cover made of either urethane or surlyn.

However, these rules do not specifically address the distance that a golf ball can travel. Instead, the USGA has set limits on the "initial velocity" of golf balls, which is the speed at which the ball leaves the clubface. The maximum allowable initial velocity for golf balls is currently 250 feet per second.

How Do You Know If Your Golf Ball Meets These Standards?

Currently, it is as easy as looking for the USGA's "Conforming Golf Ball" stamp on the ball's packaging. This stamp indicates that the ball has been tested and approved by the USGA and meets all of the organization's current standards. That will almost certainly be the case once the new standards are enacted. If you need clarification on whether a ball is conforming, you can always check the USGA's list of conforming golf balls on their website.

Additionally, your best bet is to stick to reputable ball manufacturers with a reputation for producing high-quality golf balls. These brands include names like Titleist, Srixon, TaylorMade, Bridgestone, and Callaway. Brands such as these are more likely to adhere to the USGA's standards and will likely be among the first to release conforming balls under any new rules.

Finally, it's important to remember that the golf rollback is still a long way off from coming into play. While the USGA has proposed these new rules, they have yet to be finalized, and they could change significantly before they're implemented.

At this point, you should simply be aware of changes to the rules regarding golf balls and be ready to adjust accordingly.

Photo by George Harrell

Summing It All Up

The golf ball rollback will be a significant moment in the game's history. Still, realistically, it should not significantly impact golfers' play after the new rules go into effect.

While the rules have yet to be completely finalized, it's important to understand which balls still conform to the USGA's current standards. By sticking to reputable brands, checking for the USGA's conforming stamp, and staying up-to-date on any changes to the rules, you can ensure that you are playing with legal golf balls and enjoying the game to the fullest.

There is a lot to unpack when dealing with the rules of golf; feel free to contact me here on Curated or any other Curated Golf Expert with any questions you may have on this subject.

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