On Wednesday, March 16th golf’s governing bodies (USGA and R&A) sent an official notice to equipment manufacturers regarding “changes that address the long-term cycle of consistent hitting increases in hitting distances.”

The specifics of that memo provide plenty of fodder for future debate, but the entire topic is predicated on a single premise.

Golfers are hitting the ball too far.

Or are they?

Leveraging the Arccos database, which includes 516,000,000+ tracked shots, the data tells a compelling, if not contradictory, story.

Arccos 2021 Distance Report

How player data was selected:

  • In a calendar year, a player needed to hit at least 60 shots WITH DRIVER.
  • There were 29,466,594 total shots hit in the data set (4.7M in 2019, 9.1M in 2020, 15.7M in 2021)
  • For each player, we calculated the median distance with driver for that calendar year.
  • We then looked at the median distance across all players at the player level, not the shot level
  • At the player level, the median was used to limit the impact of any outliers. If a data set is relatively consistent, a calculated average can work. However, given a less uniform data set, the median mitigates the impact of outliers (ex. Player “tops” a tee shot that travels only 20 yards).
  • The 20th and 80th percentiles were used simply to give an idea of how far a “longer” hitter hits the ball (80th percentile) and how far a shorter hitter hits the ball (20th). A player in the 80th percentile is longer than 80% of all players.

Key Takeaways

  • Amateur golfers are NOT hitting the ball too far
  • .5% of Arccos players have a median driving distance of 290-yards or longer
  • 1.5% of Arccos players have a median driving distance of 280-yards or longer
  • 3.9% of Arccos players have a median driving distance of 270-yards or longer
  • 24.0% of Arccos players have a median driving distance of 199-yards or SHORTER
  • Across all age and handicap brackets, the average driving distance remains just shy of 200 yards.

Course Length

How players were selected:

  • The logic to select players and calculate their median driving distance is the same as used above.
  • Based on the median driving distance for a player, we looked at each round they played. From there, we categorized players by how far they hit the ball while referencing the percentage of their rounds played across different course lengths.

Key Takeaways

  • In general, golfers are not playing many long courses, but many golfers are still playing courses that are too long given their median driver distance.
  • 3% of all rounds are played at 6900 yards or longer
  • 8% of all rounds are played at 6700 yards or longer. ~47% of “regulation 18-hole courses” in the USA have at least one tee box at 6700+
  • Players that have a median distance with driver of 200 to 219 yards play 47% of their rounds over 6200 yards. The USGA recommends for players with an average tee shot distance of 225-yards, they should play courses between 5800 and 6000 yards. Yet players that hit it 200-220 are playing nearly half their rounds over 6200 yards.
  • You probably need to move up a tee box.

Altitude

  • This uses the same players as above and bins them by handicap.
  • This analysis looked at the median distance of tee shots at the individual shot level for rounds played across different altitudes.
  • For reference:
  • Albuquerque, NM: 5,312 feet above sea level
  • Denver, CO: 5,280 feet above sea level
  • Salt Lake City, UT: 4,226 feet above sea level
  • El Paso, TX 3,740 feet above sea level
  • Phoenix, AZ 1,058 feet above sea level
  • Dallas, TX 430 feet above sea level
  • New York, NY (sea level)

Key Takeaways:

  • Altitude helps longer players more than shorter players.
  • Gain at sea level to 5000+ feet is 13 to 30 yards
  • If you play at various altitudes, it’s important to understand the role of trajectory and spin to maximize distance. Or put differently, the ideal combination of launch and spin in San Diego, CA (sea level) likely isn’t the same as in Denver, CO (5,280 ft).

The topic of distance is multi-faceted, and it’s clear the ruling bodies both acknowledge and struggle with this reality. But perhaps the most glaring juxtaposition is that of amateur and professional golfers. Your weekend foursome isn’t the reason courses are adding length or posting scores that appear to make iconic venues obsolete.

At least, that’s not what the data says. Tell us what you think.

 

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