The Golf Ball, Bifurcation & Golf Courses

As we all know by now, bifurcation is next buzzword in golf as it relates to the proposed new rules on golf ball distance testing. According to, “bifurcate” is defined as to divide or fork into two branches. Philosophically, one has to question promoting division for something that is currently unified and most importantly, working. As I see it, there are two (2) issues here:

  1. Does the ball go too far?
  2. Does bifurcation compromise, or even defeat one of golf’s long-standing advantages?

Personally, despite the diminishing tee shots associated with my advancing years, I think the ball goes too far – especially for some of the older golf courses that either haven’t been or can’t be expanded, or cant afford to. Not only have many of our great venues become obsolete for competition, but those that have expanded or been recently developed require more land, more maintenance, more water and more materials (fertilizer, chemicals, equipment, etc.) to operate. This is more challenging both environmentally and economically. Yankee Stadium doesn’t have to grow. An NBA basketball court is still 94’ and the basket 10’ high. The football gridiron is still 100 yards and crossbar still 10’ high and 18.5’ wide. A byproduct of the longer ball which has changed the game as much as modern distances is the inability to shape and flight shots like we were able to with the balata balls of days gone by.

As a proponent of both environmental and economic sustainability in golf, the ever-expanding golf course is a problem. Advances in technology, aerodynamics and physics have not changed the ball in other sports. Can golf stop distance where it’s at and still vary the characteristics of balls for different players (spin, launch, etc.)? If rolling it back is the answer, fine but golf is still a game with 25 million participants, most of whom play for fun. Many courses have been retrofit for today’s distances and it would not only give those courses that haven’t a chance to expand and catch up but also preserve the integrity of many courses.

I suppose there are those who’d claim it would suppress the (very active) market for golf course re-design, renovation and remodeling. That would seem to depend on the reason for renovation. If being done to host a major event, the lengthening wouldn’t be necessary. If simply enhancing the course, replacing greens, tees, bunkers or irrigation systems, or improving the layout, that work would still be vibrant.

Golf has historically been a sport with the unique characteristic that all players, of all levels, can play a major championship course, from the tips if they like, and experience the actual challenges encountered by the game’s best. Bifurcation would alter that experience which is unique to golf. None of us will ever know what it would be like to try and hit a Sandy Koufax fastball, but we can experience the island green on #17 at TPC Sawgrass just like Scottie Scheffler did – with the same ball.

Bifurcation, in my humble opinion, is not the solution to the problem. Bifurcation is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and would diminish the game. The problem that needs to be addressed is if and how reducing the distance of the ball will help (or hurt) our beloved game. Yes, golf is a hard game, and some think bifurcation is the answer. Others, like’s Dylan Dethier say ”changing elite players’ tee shots by 5% feels like it won’t be drastic enough”. My favorite golf writer,’s Jack Hirsh, says “The genie has been out of the bottle for too long. If golf wanted to do something about distance, it needed to do it BEFORE Tiger Woods came out on Tour. It’s far too late now for a rolled-back ball, and it’s going to affect way more people than golf’s governors intend.“ The solution will be debated vigorously. It’ll be interesting to see where things fall out.

If it is concluded that the ball needs to be harnessed (either reduced or restricted from future gains) the amount can and will be debated. Bifurcation would negatively impact one of golf’s great allures. Go ahead and shorten, or limit the ball’s distance. Don’t divide golf into two games.