The Rollback Comments, Questions, and Opinions Nobody Asked For, Canadian Edition
In perhaps the most interesting time in professional golf history—with the battle between the PGA TOUR and LIV—things continue to get spicier, with the USGA and R&A announcing a golf ball rollback on March 14 slated for 2026 activation.
There have been a slew of takes, from good, bad, and downright insane, but at this point, something needed to be done with distance at the professional level as golf began to approach 8,000 yard golf courses (The Ocean Course at the 2021 PGA Championship is the longest golf course in major championship history at 7,872 yards). The joint proposal put forth by USGA CEO Mike Whan and R&A CEO Martin Slumbers calls for a model local rule (MLR) to be put in place for 2026 for “elite competitions,” essentially bifurcating the game. Golf Digest does a good job summarizing the changes here, but essentially, at the top levels, 15-20 yard shorter drives are in store, with potential for more distance off.
Venues have become a topic of interest in professional golf, with the distance question posing tougher odds of finding venues big enough to host. Often times, golf courses have to narrow their fairways to help defend the golf course against par (Merion at the 2013 US Open or Hamilton for the 2019 Canadian Open, for example), last year’s US Open venue combined two holes in order to get additional girth, Oakdale for this year’s RBC Canadian Open turns three par 5’s into par 4’s in a combination of the three nine holes at the club, while Augusta National continues to swallow the surrounding area to continue to keep the spirit of Mackenzie’s golf course alive.
This is a Canadian website, though, and as such, I have some Canadian questions, and perhaps no answers, maybe some. Like most of you, I am confused and intrigued, excited and perhaps anxious to see what happens. This is more of a stream of consciousness than an article to answer any questions, but more than that, these are the things that popped into my head when I heard a rollback was coming.
Where does it stop?
Assuming the two main “elite competitions” in Canada that relate to the distance bifurcation, especially given Martin Slumbers comments on the elite male amateur, are the RBC Canadian Open and Canadian Amateur, provincial governments will have to adapt to the model local rule. This means the Alberta Amateur or Ontario Amateur will be under the new rules in 2026, but what about the junior events? Even more confusing, what about the Golf Canada Junior events, like the NextGen competitions? If they adopt the rules, the CJGA and MJT will surely be forced to do the same, also. Where does the line get drawn in the sand? Would a Canadian Senior Championship or Mid-Amateur Championship count as “elite competitions?” If this is the case, ie, every level of play, not just the male amateur playing provincial or national championships, golf clubs will be forced to adopt it into their own competitions. This is not a Canadian-specific question, obviously, but it is the first and most obvious.
Venue Selection & Future Prospects
I imagine Golf Canada is rather happy about this discussion, an organization particularly battling the additional distance in venue selection. Partly with the Canadian Amateur, but mostly with the RBC Canadian Open, where the title sponsor sees value in keeping it as close to proper Toronto as possible even with the limited host options. Canada has largely avoided the knee-jerk reactions to lengthen holes in hopes of hosting events, a blessing and a curse now. Until this point, the last 30 years have seen the bleh Glen Abbey host too many Canadian Opens. Now, with a rollback, courses that did not seek to lengthen their course dramatically suddenly find themselves with the length to host.
The average drive on the PGA TOUR in 2022 is 290.5 yards. Assuming 17.5 yards is the average loss in the rollback (splitting 15-20 yards estimate from the Golf Digest article), that equates for roughly a 6% rollback. Will it affect all clubs 6% across the board? Difficult to say. If we just take 6% and take 7,000 yards, all of a sudden, that will equal 6,580 yards when the new rules kick in for 2026. Which venues all of a sudden have a chance to host a Canadian Open after 2026? This is not a GTA only question, I am simply sticking to Canada’s 20 largest metropolitan areas. It will not leave Toronto for a while, but here are some numbers, for fun. I’ve bolded courses I think can/will/now have a chance to host moving forward:
2022 vs 2026 adjusted length, in yards
- Lambton || 7,101 to 7,527
- Capilano || 6,644 to 7,042
- Magna || 7,307 to 7,745
- Royal Mayfair || 6,740 to 7,144
- TPC Toronto (Heathlands) || 6,810 to 7,219
- TPC Toronto (Hoot) || 7,134 to 7,562
- Elmhurst || 6,715 to 7,118
- Royal Ottawa || 6,769 to 7,175
- St. Charles (Ross/Mackenzie) || 6,808 to 7,216
- Ottawa Hunt || 7,089 to 7,514
- Mississaugua || 7,014 to 7,434
- Eagles Nest || 7,476 to 7,924
- Royal Montreal (Blue) || 7,136 to 7,564
- Royal Montreal (Red) || 6,814 to 7,222
- Weston || 6,790 to 7,147
- Laval (Blue) || 7,221 to 7,654
- Summit || 6,960 to 7,377
- Coppinwood, whatever length it is
- Goodwood, whatever length it is
- National Golf Club of Canada in a world where they accept women
- Toronto (Colt) || 6,836 to 7,246
2022 vs 2026 adjusted length, in yards
- St. George’s || 7,014 to 7,435
- Point Grey || 6,801 to 7,209
- Priddis Greens (Hawk) || 6,913 to 7,328
- TPC Toronto (North) || 7,151 to 7,580
- Oakdale (Thompson/Homenuik) || 6,704 to 7,106
- Oakdale (Composite) || 7,298 to 7,736
- Pine Ridge || 6,622 to 7,019
- Riverside, SK || 6,808 to 7,488
- Dakota Dunes || 7,301 to 7,739
- Pulpit Club (Pulpit) || 7,162 to 7,592
- Pulpit Club (Paintbrush) || 6,772 to 7,178
- Mickelson National || 8,000 (?) to 8,480
- Royal Colwood || 6,721 to 7,124
- Laval (Green) || 6,657 to 7,056
- Shaughnessy || 7,045 to 7,467
- Vancouver || 6,800 to 7,208
- Beacon Hall || 6,999 to 7,419
- Mount Bruno || 6,642 to 7,040
- Westmount || 6,943 to 7,359
- Blackhawk || 6,835 to 7,245
- Hamilton || 7,150 to 7,579
In some fairy tale land, a rotation that includes St. George’s, Capilano, Westmount, Royal Montreal’s Blue course, Laval’s Blue course, Mount Bruno, Toronto Golf Club, Shaughnessy, Blackhawk, and Hamilton would be ideal. Once in every ten years could work, but we all know RBC and Golf Canada will not leave Toronto. Instead, I think Summit, Toronto, Westmount, Lambton, TPC Toronto’s Heathlands course are the most obvious choices of newcomers, while Weston, Paintbrush, Magna, Pulpit, Coppinwood are potential choices as well.
On a smaller, but also important note, venue selection for PGA TOUR Canada just became easier. They typically play shorter courses than the PGA TOUR, but now they have more options. Anything over 6,500 yards now is a realistic possibility for a large event.
2023 vs 2026 Canadian Open
The most interesting side effect for Canada? The additional attention for the 2023 RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale, which will use a composite routing of all three nine hole courses at the Toronto club to reach 7,300+ yards, the longest course in Canadian Open history. But given the pending changes in 2026 if all goes well, will the club stick with the composite routing, or will it go to the Thompson/Homenuik golf course? At 7,736 adjusted yardage, the composite routing will likely be too long, especially with a handful of the converted par 5’s including the par 4, 18th. The Thompson/Homenuik routing seems better suited at 7,106 yards (adjusted), although maybe on the shorter side. Further, logistics have already been figured out for 2023, it would be strange to see them switch, although early reactions from the 2022 RBC Canadian Open Final Qualifier seemed to be mixed on a couple of issues, including the converted par 5’s and the forced layup off the tee on the rather monstrous 18th.
7,000 yards –> 6,580 yards
450 yard par 4 –> 477 yards
200 yard par 3 –> 212 yards
550 yard par 5 –> 583 yards
If, and this is a big if, we all adjust to the new ball (I personally think that’s the way it will go down), numerous classic courses will be “fixed.” Not that there’s anything wrong with Royal Ottawa, Scarboro, Grand-Mere, Jasper Park Lodge, or any course similar, but the rollback will help holes play as originally intended. Jasper Park Lodge will top out at over 7,000 yards and restore some of the carries on the 2nd and 5th; the forced layups on Royal Ottawa’s 9th and 15th suddenly do not seem so bad. Grand-Mere is no longer a short golf course at 6,400; it would be 6,784, adjusted. This is a niche complaint and in theory, could be fixed with hickories for my own enjoyment. Although if everyone experiences the same thing, that is better, no?
Safety Issues & Concerns
Canadian architect Ian Andrew has tailored renovations towards safety and protection in recent years, such as the 5th hole at Islington, a reverse redan par 5 to get players aiming away from the property line (those who live on Islington have issues with balls coming over the fence, apparently). Will this be a byproduct of a rollback? Technically, it is bifurcation, but I suspect if any/all Golf Canada competitions uses the ball/model local rule, we all will follow suit. If so, safety concerns could be minimized with a shorter golf ball. Who knows, though. I think this is pretty low on the list of possibilities.
CP Women’s Open + Canadian Women’s Amateur
The women’s game will not be subject to this rule… yet, it seems. If the 6% rollback calculation is correct, essentially, the average drive on the PGA TOUR come 2026 will be the same as the longest average on the LPGA TOUR, in the neighbourhood of 275 yards. Venues could be similar for the CP Women’s Open and RBC Canadian Open; the former has done an excellent job rotating it around the country, although until this point, they have had more venues to select from.
Random Thoughts On The Matter
One of the most obvious, and I would say valid, criticisms of a bifurcation of the rules of golf is the notion that golf is one of the rare sports you and the guy you watch on Sunday could and do use the same equipment/play the same courses. In reality, this isn’t true and has not been the case for a while. Taylormade has built TOUR heads, with different specs, weights, and centre of gravity, for as long as I can remember playing golf (I have a SLDR Tour version in my closet with a completely different build than the retail version). Throughout the years, Titleist has tour-only models of golf balls available for TOUR players. These include the ProV1X Left Dash and ProV1 Left Dot (both of which have seen public releases), but has included ProV1X Right Dot, ProV1 Star, ProV1X Diamond, and more.
As for specific rules of golf, the PGA TOUR operates under the model local rule about Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIO) to deal with grandstands, among others. They don’t play the same game, whether we like it or not.
LIV will almost certainly not accept the model local rule in favour of their product, but if the PGA TOUR does—I suspect at the pressure of the players having to adjust between the ‘normal’ ball and the model local rule ball that The Masters, US Open, and Open Championship will almost certainly use—will players jump ship to go to LIV in favour of playing the longer ball? They would be stupid to if they want to compete at the majors, but Keegan Bradley, Charley Hoffman, and Webb Simpson have already voiced displeasure in the decision. Rory, JT, and Spieth are not jumping ship anytime soon, but this might be the final nail in the coffin for older guys on TOUR who might not get into the majors and want to make a cheque using the ball they’ve used their entire life.
What length of golf course will they have to re-allocate resources to removing back tees and build forward tees if everyone does adapt to the model local rule (heavy if, but it all depends on where “elite competitions” is defined)? When 2026 rolls around, is 7,300 too long? 7,200? Everyone will have to move up a set of tees if clubs force people to put in the model local rule (something I could see places like National Golf Links of America or Toronto Golf Club doing for their competitions), but too-many-to-count golf courses have not invested enough money in forward sets of tees, instead opting to invest in the tees nobody really used anyway. My guess is any golf course over 7,100 will re-invest resources and materials into building forward tees if we all move to the new ball.
A full rollback, not bifurcation, would have been my preferred route. I have faith in Mike Whan these days, though, and he obviously has more access to relevant information related to their decision than I do, a random golf pro/occasional word jockey writing from his bedroom in Etobicoke. He’s a go-getter; someone with the right intentions of the game in mind, and I’m glad to see this change come about during his tenure.