For Us It’s All About Inclusion

Ultimate Long Drive is 100% about diversity and inclusion. As lovers of the game golf and the sport of long drive, it is our core goal to grow the sport of long drive….and golf as well. We strive to make the sport available to anyone regardless of age or ability. Warning: There are those in the sport who believe it should only be played by elite athletes. 

Long Drive is Still Golf – Take That USGA

For many golfers, their driver is their favorite club, and for some long drivers….it’s their only (golf) club. Even though the USGA removed long drive from its purview in January 2022, we still embrace the fact that long drive is a form of golf…at least a first cousin. I mean…we hit golf balls with golf clubs. No, it’s not a tee to green form of golf, but rather a tee to grid form. We’ll always have the opinion it is golf. 

The Age & Ability Challenge

For many years the sport of long drive was mainly enjoyed by a limited number of elite athletes. As one can imagine, entry into the sport was extremely difficult. In 2017 ULD (operating then as Amateur Long Drive) opened up the game of long drive to include everyone who loves to hit the long ball. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been classing the athletes by appropriate divisions. It has become obvious, in order to achieve fairness in competition, divisions have to be based on age and ability. ..and (we believe) every division has to be open for both males and females. In determining the proper cutoff for each age division, careful consideration had to be given to the pace of growth and development for youth and the opposite consideration for the pace of decline for older athletes. It took a few years to get it right.

The Breakdown

For age considerations we ended up with a range from 7 years old and under to 75 years old and older. The current youth division breakdown is: 7U; 9U; 11U; 13U; 15U; and 17U. This breakdown still isn’t always perfect, because some kids outpace their normal age / development progression. For adults the current breakdown is: 18+; 35+; 40+; 45+; 50+; 55+; 60+; 65+; 70+; and 75+. Anyone who has “aged” through these brackets will understand why they are important. Those between the ages of 18 and 30 probably have yet to experience the consequences of age and athletic performance. Most lost a step at 25, but won’t admit it. I, for one, have aged through all but two of them. Also for adults, outside the normal adult divisions, we have the Valor Division for current and former military and first responders. We don’t always fill each division, but we offer the opportunity

Let Us Count the Possible Divisions

All athletes in the adult divisions may play for money (as professionals) and/or for points (as amateurs). Some divisions are always going to be heavier than others. Before we get into the adaptive divisions let’s calculate how many divisions are (so far) possible in any given event. There are 7 age brackets for youth for both boys and girls, making that total 14. There are 10 adult age brackets available to both men and women making that total 20. All 20 of those adult divisions are eligible to play as amateurs and / or pros bringing that total of possible divisions to 40. Although it hasn’t happened yet, there could be both men and women in the Valor division, along with amateurs and pros. That “potentially” adds an additional 4 divisions. I get 58…how about you?

Adaptive Golf

We (ULD) are in this sport due to adaptive golfers. We became part of the long drive family supporting Dean Jarvis and his ParaLong Drive competitions more than a decade ago. Dean did a fantastic job getting wounded warriors and other athletes with various disabilities interested in the game of long drive. His efforts are responsible for saving the lives of some who had otherwise given up on life. I know. I interviewed them. The adaptive divisions (to me) are the most important and are the most difficult to class with the precision of the divisions listed so far. There could be as few as one adaptive division at an event or as many as….any number. We welcome every player of every ability to come enjoy some (as-fair-as-we-can-make-it) long drive fun.

47 World Champions – The Record….So Far

The most divisions represented at a single event (so far) has been 47 at the 2023 World Championship. Not knowing exactly what the final tally would be, we took 60 trophies to the event. There were several who qualified and could not make the event. And, yes, every winner of every division was crowned world champion. Each qualified by way of ULD sanctioned events to get to the “world” championship. As many as 18 countries have been represented at our “world” championships. That makes them “world” championships.

Now for the critics: 

Yes, we are aware of the criticism coming from a competing organization for having so many divisions and for calling winners world champions. We have also been criticized for awarding a world championship in a division with a single competitor. That is a rare occurrence, and rightfully gets some scrutiny when it occurs. But we believe the person who competed for the opportunity should be rewarded even when an opponent couldn’t make the event. I can only imagine the unfairness associated with the converse side of that situation. It is our intent to grow the sport. Fewer divisions means less opportunity to compete with an age equivalent athlete. We believe decreased opportunity results in negative growth opportunity. We will create as many opportunities to bring new people into the sport as physically possible and to keep them coming back….and hopefully those new people become ambassadors who bring more attention to our sport. And for those who think we’re profiting from this. We eventually hope to. ULD (Ultimate Long Drive, Inc) is a business. It is a South Carolina Corporation. I, personally, have underwritten the losses of the company since we began. In 2023 we were finally (legitimately) profitable (for that year), and we hope this trend continues. I attribute that to the management of operations by Kevin Porter, our Vice President of Operations, our Tournament Directors, our extremely talented (and diverse) long drive athletes, our sponsors, our fans,  and the amazing volunteers who support us. We have a great organization. And, if you haven’t noticed, they’re loyal and passionate individuals who have the backs of our entire long drive family.

Bottom line:

The sport of long drive has existed since the 70s. There have been some great accomplishments made by capable people managing the sport. In the past others have offered the opportunity for multiple divisions but failed to make it work long term. We hope ours is the solution that creates a solid foundation for our sport and adds the legs necessary to sustain it for decades to come. Every other sport has a foundation that begins with youth. So should we. And why shouldn’t older and differently-abled athletes be able to enjoy the competition, the camaraderie and the quest of being a world champion? Our goal has never been to diminish the efforts of others but to recognize the champion that exists in everyone, fostering a community of competition, camaraderie, and the pursuit of allowing the opportunity for anyone to be a long drive world champion in their own right.

Jeff Gilder