Are you ready to grip it and rip it? A long drive competition is a thrilling experience to behold. It’s an exciting and entertaining event for any golfer of any skill level. Stepping up to the tee box and belting the ball as far as you can seem somewhat uncouth to purists of the game, but it’s tons of fun for everyone else.
Scores don’t matter at a long drive competition; all that matters is distance. Grab the Big Dog, step up, and swing for glory. Long drive events vary in the intensity of the experience. There are plenty of events, from small comps held at your local driving range to massive coordinated events featuring guest celebrities, pyrotechnics, and music.
It’s a high-energy environment and totally the opposite of what you usually find on the links. Sure, these competitions aren’t as popular as the game of golf, but they’re gaining a large following. This post unpacks everything you need to know about long drive competitions and how to sign up for your first event.
A Guide to Long Drive Competitions
Most golfers take the time to practice their short game wherever they can. Visit the home or office of a golfing enthusiast, and you’re sure to find a putting mat and cup in the corner of the room. However, it’s less common to see people practicing their driving skills. How hard is it to crack the ball as far as possible anyway?
The reality is the long game is as important as the short game, and it requires the same level of dedication and practice if you want to build your skills off the tee box. The driving range is the preferred venue for practicing your long game, but most of us don’t visit it as often as we should.
Chances are you’ve visited your driving range at some point to find a club hosting a long drive competition. What is it? How does it work? And is it worth competing in one of these events?
Long Drive Competitions – A Brief History
The first-ever long drive event occurred at the 31st PGA Championship at Hermitage Country Club, outside Henrico, VA. Chick Herbert won the sports inaugural contest, blasting a 305-foot drive off the tee to the amazement of fans.
However, it wasn’t until 1974 that the PGA Championship spun off the event into a separate entity. Over the last 50-years, we’ve seen the rise of long drive competitions at venues across the globe. Until 2015, Mesquite, Nevada, was the home to the World Long Drive Championships, but it’s since moved locations to Oklahoma.
If you want to get involved in long drive championships, you don’t need to be a pro. Driving ranges in your local area probably host a few of these events a year, allowing anyone to enter. Pay your registration fee, step up to the tee and try to knock your ball into the stratosphere.
The average long-drive distance at one of these competitions is 350+ yards. The top pros and some amateur outliers can crack drives of 450-yards or more. Fortunately, you don’t have to have a colossal swing to win a long drive event. There are plenty of events out there suitable for beginners and intermediate players.
What are the Rules of a Long Drive Competition?
The longest drive recorded in PGA Tour history belongs to Davis Love III. Davis smashed the ball 476-yards on the 18th hole at Kapalua Plantation Course during the 2004 Mercedes Championship. So, can long drive champions belt the ball as far as this colossal feat?
Well, several long drive pros can frequently get above the legendary 450-yard mark. What are the rules involved with this competition? Do you need to drive with the finesse you use on the course, or could you use a modified swing to bring out your inner “Happy Gilmore?”
The reality is long drive competitions have rules to the gameplay. The primary goal of the competition is to drive the ball as far as possible. However, you have to complete the shot within the “grid,” or your shot goes out of bounds and doesn’t qualify.
However, the grid is usually wider than a fairway at your local course. Accuracy is less important than the distance in these competitions. Depending on the event and the league hosting the event, players usually have a set amount of time to make between six to eight drives.
Do Competitors Use Specialized Equipment at Long Drive Competitions?
With competitors posting such huge distances, it’s easy to think that they must be using some sort of specialized equipment to achieve these feats. However, that’s not the case. Competitors use slightly modified equipment compared to what they use when teeing off at the course.
Clubs for Long Drive Competitions
According to the World Long Drive Association, competitors must use USGA-approved clubs. Drivers may have a maximum shaft length of 48″ with a max clubhead volume of 460cc.
There are no specifications of rules for clubhead lofts. However, most competitors use a low loft of four to five degrees, while most other golfers will use a nine to ten-degree loft when playing a course. Even the Tour Pros don’t go under seven degrees of loft in the clubface.
Competitors will also choose shafts with next to no flex. The stiffer the shaft, the higher the club speed and the greater the ball speed coming off the tee. Combine this with the low spin and low launch trajectory created by the low clubface loft, and you get a recipe for the longest drives.
Balls for Long Drive Competitions
Volvick has been the official ball sponsor for all World Long Drive Association events since 1976. The Volvick ball used in these competitions comes with a design for a low spin rate. The “compression rate” of the ball is approximately 110, compared to the 70 to 80 found in regular balls used in championship and recreational matchplay.
The added compression in the ball adds up to reduced spin and more distance from the drive. These balls aren’t a good choice for regular play as they lack the ability to create the spin golfers need to land the ball on the green and hold the position.
Divisions and Leagues Associated with Long Drive Events
Like the PGA Tour, the World Long Drive Association offers four organizations where athletes can choose to compete.
PLDA (Professional Long Drivers Association)
The PLDA competition has three divisions, the Men’s Open, Women’s Open, and Master’s Open. The World Long Drive Association started the Men’s Open in 1976, the Master’s in 1996, and the women’s division in 2000. Master’s tournaments are for p[layers aged 45-years and over.
Competitors must be World Long Drive Association members to qualify to compete. The association runs local and regional qualifiers, then championship qualifiers, across all three divisions. It’s a formal league where players compete for leaderboard points and prizes.
Xtreme Long Drive Tour
This Tour has its headquarters in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s the major organization funneling competitors into the PLDA.
European Long Drive Games
This organization hosts and coordinates European long drive events. Top competitors will move into the PLDA or Extreme Long Drive Tour.
Long Drive for Heroes
This organization creates and coordinates long drive events targeting the military veteran player segment. They do a lot of charity and fundraising events for veteran organizations.
Are there Amateur Long Drive Competitions?
The Amateur long Drive Association (ALD) hosts competitions catering to amateur long drive specialists. This league operates in locations across the United States and Canada. Amateurs can register for long drive competitions and maintain amateur status while playing in the USGA and other local golf competitions.
If you want to compete in ALD events, you’ll need to pay a membership to the organization. Memberships cost $100 for adults and $50 for juniors under 18. Entry fees for events are $50 for adults and $25 for those under 18s. If you win any ALD event, you may have the chance to attend the PLDA local or regional qualifying tournaments.
What Do Long Drive Specialists Earn for a Competition Win?
The 2019 World Long Drive Association Championships had a total prize pool of $270,000. The winner walked away with the first prize of $125,000 in cash. Sure, that’s nowhere near the millions of dollars the pros earn on the PGA Tour, but it’s not bad considering there is only one skill to master to dominate the sport.
Most PLDA and World Long Drive Association events are available for viewing on channels like ESPN2. Switch on the TV, and you’ll find these events showing up from time to time. They don’t draw the same viewership as PGA events, but they are plenty of fun to watch.
How Do I Enter a Long Drive Competition?
If you enjoy hitting bombs off the tee at your local driving range, you might enjoy testing your mettle in a long drive competition. There are plenty of local events hosted by driving ranges around the US, Canada, UK, and other countries. You can even find them in locations like South Africa and Australia.
Speak to your local driving range owners about competitions in your area. You might discover that your local range hosts a long drive competition a few times a year. Some of these competitions might serve as qualifiers to help you get onto the local or regional PLDA qualifying events. Then you’re on your way to the big time!
How Do I Train for Long Drive Competition?
If you feel like you want to give a long drive competition a go, it’s time to train. While it might seem like long drive competitors don’t need to do much to clobber the ball huge distances, there’s actually a lot of technique and strength behind smashing the longest drives.
If you want to be competitive and make it to the big time, you must train properly. Most World Long Drive Association athletes state they train for two to three hours two to three times a week. That’s just the driving, and there’s a lot more to their training than just attending the driving range.
If you look through most of the competitors on tour, not only do they have excellent technique, but many of them prioritize training for muscle mass as well. There’s no need to train for longevity since you’re only playing for short periods, with 30-shots per round in a competition. You’re looking to train for speed and power. Being explosive off the tee is what you need to get the longest drives under your belt.
Along with your on-course training, you’ll need to hit the gym to build muscle mass. You’ll need strong shoulders, chest, back, and core muscles to hit the longest drives. You’ll need to use exercises with “compound movements” that simultaneously stress the major muscle groups, giving you the best overall training effect.”
Your weight training can last for up to 45-minutes a session, and you’ll need at least three sessions a week to see results. Being a long-drive competitor means that you compete professionally, and it’s your job. If you want to reach the pinnacle of success, your training must become the most important thing in your life, outside of your family and friends.
So, along with the physical demands of the sort, you’ll need to develop your mental game. Your family and friends play a huge role in your success in the sport. If you look at the best players in golf, think of Tiger Woods (and so many other players), but their biggest inspiration comes from their families.
So, you need a strong support structure you help you through your competitive march to the top of the leaderboard.
Practice makes perfect, and the more time you spend in the driving cage, the more you’ll improve your swing and distance. Once you feel like you have your swing down and regularly hit distances of 350+ yards, it’s time to sign up for a local contest to test your mettle against local competition.
Who Is the Long Drive Champion?
The current champ of the World Long Drive Association is Kyle Berkshire. Kyle won the 2019 tournament and the 2021 World Championships.
When it comes to the world of long drives, Kyle is King. Kyle’s a well-known personality in the sport and well-known in professional golfing circles. Kyle’s longest drive in competition measures 492-yards, with a club speed of 15-mph and a ball speed of over 250-mph.
Despite his success on the tee, Kyle wants to take on the demands of the Tour. He’s set to enter the professional competition on the PGA Tour in 2023. We look forward to seeing if he can translate his success in driving competition to the Tour tee box.
Up-and-comer Bryson DeChambeau is a seasoned pro, but he found himself a little out of his depth when he transitioned into WLDA play. Bryson has a reputation for some long drives on Tour, and the fans were interested to see if he could make a successful move into long drive competition without losing his cool in a new environment.
At the end of 2021, he managed to cement his stature among the best in long drive competition. Bryson made it to the competition’s quarterfinals on his debut at the Professional Long Drivers Association World Championship.
DeChambeau was the first PGA Tour golfer competing for a US $50,000 winner’s purse at the event. The newcomer faced a field of 139 competitors at Mesquite, Nevada – known as the mecca of long drive competition.
Bryson launched five drives well over 400-yards, putting on a show in the Round of 16. He launched three bombs with ball speeds measured over 350km/h, with DeChambeau crossing the 400-yard threshold three times.
As the first full-time Tour player participating in the PLDA World Championship play, DeChambeau continues to lead the Tour in average drive distance, scoring 321.5 in 2021. Bryson also received and accepted the invitation to participate in the long-drive event in late August. The media reports him saying his goal was to “show the world how incredibly hardworking and talented the athletes participating in PLDA events are.”
On the first day of the PLDA event, DeChambeau used his five 400+ yard drives to finish in a tiebreaker for second in the Round of 16. His positioning included top-12 status and the nod to go through to the next round.
The next day, the first two drives sailed out of bounds, with nine of 30 balls going out of bounds that round. As a result, he ended up with the best ratio in the group, progressing to the next day. After his win, Bryson notes the following.
“I feel like I just won something today. I won a big PGA event, even though I just qualified for tomorrow.” – Bryson DeChambeau.
It’s clear that there’s plenty of talent coming into the organization and a wide field of competitors. With many organizations internationally, and more people taking to the game each year, we expect the competitive circuit to continue to expand.
Wrapping Up – What’s the Longest Drive in PLDA competition?
The record for the longest drive in the PLDA competition goes to Mike Dobbyn. Mike plowed a ball a colossal 551-yards from the tee.
We think it might have something to do with his enormous 6’6″, 300+ lbs. frame providing the momentum behind the shot.
The longest unofficial drive goes to Carl Cooper. Carl stuck a drive some 30-years ago in 1992, with the ball traveling a staggering 787-yards!
Jason Zuback holds six World Long Drive Association titles, making him the most-winning long drive specialist of all time. His biggest run came with four titles in a row between 1996 to 1999.