WLD World Long Drive
World Long Drive Association (WLD)
The metamorphosis of long drive competitions in the United States evolved over the past seven decades from 1949, when golf fans outside Henrico, VA watched Chick Harbert win the inaugural long drive event during the 31st PGA Championship. While Harbert was credited with a 305-yard drive at Hermitage Country Club (now Belmont GC), it was Sam Snead who won the match play championship and took home $3,500 as the PGA Champion's share. Five years later, Harbert won the PGA Championship (his only major) at Keller Golf Club outside St. Paul, MN. In 2019, Max Homa won the PGA Championship Long Drive Competition on a cold and wet day at Bethpage Black with a 318-yard poke. Unlike the World Long Drive Association events, where competitors in each round of match play have 3 minutes to hit eight golf balls of the same manufacturer, PGA Championship long drives feature a single blast on a designated tournament hole. Moreover, at most World Long Drive Association events, entrants must advance through early qualifying to reach the final televised groups, which are conducted as knockout brackets.
Early Years of the WLD
In 1974, the sport of long drive spun-off the PGA Championship and created a National Long Drive championship solely dedicated to sport’s biggest hitters. The game’s first Renaissance Man, PGA pro Evan “Big Cat” Williams with his 6-foot 6-inch frame, won the National Long Drive event with a 366-yard drive at Tanglewood Golf Course in NC. Jeoff Long, an amateur long driver from Fort Mitchell KY, won the 1975 event recording a 322-yard drive at Butler National outside Chicago. Beginning in 1976, golf-ball manufacturer (Volvik) became the major sponsor of the World Long Drive Championship and staged an annual championship for the world’s biggest hitters crowning champions in three divisions (Open, Masters and Women's). Almost twenty years later, two-time World Long Drive champion Art Sellinger created the Long Drivers of America (LDA) and worked with Golf Digest to rebrand the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship as an X-Games sport that featured extreme athletes under the lights with roudy fans, fireworks, and loud music. The LDA provided a more primal identity that appealed to long drive's unique fan base. In 2010, Dick’s Sporting Goods became a major sponsor and the championship became the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship Powered by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Golf Channel's Long Drive Month
The Golf Channel, which was a spin-off of NBC Sports Group, signed an agreement with the LDA and the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship in 2013. As part of the broadcast deal, October would become the “Long Drive Month” on the Golf Channel culminating with two nights of live primetime coverage from the 2013 World Long Drive Championship. Working closely with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau, the stage was set for the final eight qualifiers in the Men’s Open division to compete under the lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The big hitters did not disappoint fans watching the live event and Tim Burke blasted a 427-yard bomb to defeat British long driver Joe Miller.
Golf Channel & LDA – RE/MAX World Championship Series
- MEN’S OPEN DIVISION
- 2013 – Tim Burke 427 yards
- 2014 – Jeff Flagg 365 yds
- MASTER’S OPEN DIVISION
- 2013 – Stephen Kennedy 369 yards
- 2014 – Jeff Gavin 384 yards
- WOMEN’S DIVISION
- 2013 – - Heather LeMaster 306 yards
- 2014 – Sandra Carlborg 332 yards
In 2015, NBC’s major cable network provider Comcast acquired the rights to the long drive championship and re-branded it as the World Long Drive Association (WLD). The World Long Drive Championship finals were moved from Nevada to a permanent location at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, OK. Prior to forming the World Long Drive Association, live televised coverage focused only on the final group of qualifiers in the Men’s Open division. Following the acquisition from the Long Drivers of America, Golf Channel expanded the number of televised events to include the Women’s Open Division, which was showcased live for the first time in the sport’s history.
Myths of Juiced Balls & Trick Clubs
For years, mythical rumors circulated around driving ranges that world’s big hitters used specialized golf clubs and juiced balls to delivery 450-yard drives in competition. Nothing is farther from the truth. World Long Drive Association competitors were required to use USGA-approved golf clubs with a maximum length shaft of 48 inches and the volume of the clubhead no greater than 460 cc. All balls used for a WLD event were furnished by the golf ball sponsor of the World Long Drive Association to ensure USGA compliance as well as equality of brand and model. What is different about today’s long ball hitters is each golfer’s innovative approach and training regimen allows them to swing the club faster (not harder).
Volvik World Long Drive Championship
- MEN’S OPEN DIVISION
- 2015 – Tim Burke 427 yards
- 2016 – Joe Miller 423 yards
- 2017 – Justin James 435 yards*
- 2018 – Maurice Allen 393 yards
- 2019 – Kyle Berkshire 406 yards
*Justin James hit the longest Official Drive in WLDA World Championship final round. But, Maurice Allen (2018 WLD Champion) hit the longest confirmed drive in WLD competition with a 483-yard blast at the Mile High Showdown in Denver during his quarterfinal round.
Although longer drives have occurred during early elimination rounds, Justin James set the WLD longest drive of 435 yards during a final round at the 2017 World Long Drive Association Championship. That same year, Maurice Allen (who would win the 2018 World Long Drive Association Championship) hit the longest confirmed drive in WLD competition of 483 yards at the Mile High Showdown in Denver during his quarterfinal round. He beat Justin James with a 465-yard blast in the semifinals and claimed victory over Ryan Reisback with a 436-yard drive in the championship round. Nonetheless, the main difference in golf equipment used by these big hitters is the stiffness of the shaft. This minimizes any loss of control due factors like bend and torque. In addition, the shaft's kick point is usually higher up to allow for a lower trajectory of ball flight relative to the golfer’s swing… all legal options under USGA rules and regulations.
WLD Death by COVID in 2020
With televized long drive competitions being broadcast in 70 countries around the world, the World Long Drive Association had added several international long drive partners. To globalize the sport, WLD announced the addition of events in Canada, India, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, winners would recieve an automatic exemption into the Volvik World Long Drive Championship final. Unknowingly, as competitors, organizers, sponsors, fans, and the Golf Channel were preparing for the 2020 World Long Drive Championship, only vague mentions a novel virus infecting people in Wuhan, China had appeared in the media. Unfortunately, the new coronavirus would spread quickly, have a major impact on 7.5 billion people globally, and would turn the page on the next chapter in the history of world long drive. Initially, qualifying events were postponed with intentions of rescheduling them in late spring or early summer. Nonetheless, by early June, the news was out that the high-octane world long drive tour was “For Sale”. The Golf Channel, which had become part of the fabric of long game competitions, had just celebrated its 25th birthday in January. Nonetheless, network officials at NBC Sports considered the move to be necessary due to a broad-range of COVID-19 concerns. Dwindling sponsorship, travel restrictions, and overall safety concerns had already put five of the six scheduled qualifiers on hold leaving only the World Long Drive Championship. Later that month, the World Long Drive Association sent a letter to competitors that the season finale had been suspended.