According to the R&A and USGA, the latest figure has jumped out after similar reports in 2015 and 2016 showed driving distance since 2003 creeping up about 0.2 yards per year.
“The 2017 data shows a deviation from this trend,” said the two organisations in a press releaase issued today.
“As noted in previous annual reports, variability in driving distance of four or more yards from season to season on any one tour is not uncommon.
“However, this level of increase across so many tours in a single season is unusual and concerning and requires closer inspection and monitoring to fully understand the causes and effects.
“As the review of this issue progresses, the R&A and the USGA remain committed to the spirit of the 2002 Joint Statement of Principles which recognise that distance impacts many aspects of golf and that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable.”
Both R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, hinted recently that the distance issue was set to be addressed after conceding their “line in the sand” has been crossed.
“There has been a significant move up across all tours and we’re looking at the longest average driving distance on record,” said Slumbers. “Both of those have caused us, as well as our colleagues at the USGA, serious concern.
“Our 2002 Joint Statement of Principles put a line in the sand, or purported to put a line in the sand. I think our view is when you start to look at this data now, that we have probably crossed that line in the sand and that a serious discussion is now needed on where we go.”
According to today’s press release, the two bodies now intend to “conduct a thoughtful conversation about the effects of distance prior to making any specific proposals”.
It added: “We remain open-minded and our absolute priority is to ensure that all key stakeholders are involved in an open and inclusive process and that we move forward together in the best interests of golf at all levels.
“There is no fixed timetable, but we will commence this process immediately and endeavor to reach a conclusion as promptly as possible.
“In conjunction with the publication of the 2017 distance research report, the R&A and USGA are carrying out a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of increased distance on both the playing and overall health of golf.
“In the coming months, we will engage with stakeholders throughout the golf industry to develop a comprehensive understanding of perspectives on distance.
“Ultimately, The R&A and the USGA remain steadfastly committed to ensuring a sustainable and enjoyable future for golf.”