The US Masters begins next week April 5th and it’s safe to say that golf fans are in for a truly spectacular tournament. The top three favourites at leading online sportsbooks are Rory McIlroy (who’s averaging 8/1), Dustin Johnson (9/1) and perhaps most surprisingly Tiger Woods (9/1).
While fans are consumed by the spectacle that will be Woods’ return to Augusta after 3 years, some very important business will be taking place behind the scenes as the United States Golf Association (USGA) and R&A meet to discuss increasing driving distances at golf courses across the world.
It’s no secret that golf is at a major crossroads, with a massive debate taking place as to which direction taken on the issue will consolidate the beloved sport’s future. It boils down to this - the distance at which pro golfers can strike a ball is increasing. As such, the question beckons - should courses be less concerned about accommodating the pros and more concerned about accommodating masses of casual golfers?
The increasing of course distances, which would certainly change up the field betting market, has been proven to increase the cost of playing golf, one of the main points driving the conversation that will take place in the Augusta Clubhouse. St-Andrews based R&A and the USGA recently published their annual Distance Report, an analysis which shows an average increase of three yards on driving distance from 2016-17.
Chief Executive of TaylorMade, the golf equipment manufacturer, said:
"[TaylorMade] opposes any potential rollback of product performance or bifurcation of the rules in any form as we believe these movements will be detrimental to the game at every level".
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A admitted that its been long enough, and that a discussion around the issue is imminent:
"We have probably crossed that line in the sand and a serious discussion is now needed on where we go and you can rest assured that we are very serious to make sure what's right for golf."
The detrimental effects of vast driving distances was on the mind of Mike Davis, Chief Executive of the USGA, as he stated his views on the topic:
"The reality is this is affecting all golfers and affecting them in a bad way. These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand. All it's doing is increasing the cost of the game. The impact it has had has been horrible."
According to BBC Sport, the bifurcation of player levels is one of the options on the table. This means separate rules for elite professionals and casual golfers. However, golfers at both ends of the scale take massive issue with this option as it destroys a core component of the game - the fact that it, unlike many other sports, take boxing for example, is exactly the same at every level.
Another suggestion, although noted as entirely impractical among golf fans and pros alike is to limit a pro’s bag to just 5 clubs including a putter. The apparent benefits of doing so would be the speeding up of club choice, the need for more skill from a player and reducing the load on caddies.
Other solutions include taking a percentage off the distance a ball travels and changing the courses without grabbing land. Narrower fairways, choppier rough and penal fairway bunkers have all been on the suggestion list too.
The internet and media are rife with speculation - but what’s unclear at this moment in time is whether there will be any directive agreed upon at Augusta and whether or not there will be more concrete information for golf fans and players after the US Masters betting has finished for this year.
If a decision is made which handicaps the distance at which a professional golfer can strike a ball, avid golf gamblers will have to bear this in mind when figuring out their betting strategy. Bifurcation wouldn’t be as much of an issue for bettors, but the limiting of clubs or docking of distance certainly would.
There’s the possibility in either of these cases that the odds for bigger hitters will lengthen. Being able to strike the ball a massive distance, like Dustin Johnson’s recent drive which nearly came to 500 yards, is an absolute skill and to have restrictions placed over that skill would surely play a part in the psychology of the game.
While both of these situations are pretty unlikely, it is worth keeping an eye on the conversations that will be taking place at the 2018 US Masters if you plan on betting on golf in the near future. Check back with Gambling.com for updates as we continue to follow along with this developing story.