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Too Little Too Late? The USGA Revisits Square Grooves

Feb. 26, 2007     By     Comments (28)

Ever since the Ping debacle in the 1980s, the USGA has kept a wary eye out for lawyers as they've tiptoed around equipment rules changes. Here they go again.

Bag DropWith the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with legal bills, it would appear golf's ruling body in the U.S. is feeling frisky.

Last August they issued a 104-page report to club manufacturers indicating that currently permissible grooves allow the game's best players to impart more spin on the ball from light rough than should be acceptable. While they promised no immediate action, it seems obvious they seriously want to consider an equipment rules change.

My question, and the question of many others, is whether a rules change on grooves is necessary or even advisable. Are they making rules for the top 0.5% of players in the world, or for they rest of us?

How We Got Here
When golf club makers started casting iron heads, the USGA revised the rules on grooves to allow them to make U-shaped grooves instead of machining or stamping V-grooves. It began as an accommodation to a new manufacturing process.

The Ping controversy really had nothing to do with a new rule on grooves, but rather centered on how the USGA chose to apply the existing rule to Ping's version of U-grooves. The resulting litigation and subsequent settlement had a far greater impact on the game than any performance enhancement from grooves.

The specter of non-stop lawsuits seriously compromised the USGA's ability to regulate equipment. Since that time, equipment rules changes have done little to stem the emergence of the "bomb and gouge" style of play now seen on the professional tours. In fact, new rules have actually contributed to it.

Dropping the Ball
When you look at recent equipment rules changes, it would appear the USGA has been inconsistent and inconsequential at best, and incompetent at worst. Consider this:

They've placed a length limit on drivers and tees but not on putters. For heaven's sakes, why?

Originally intending to set an arbitrary limit of 385cc on driver head volume, the USGA caved in to lawsuit threats and set the current 460cc maximum.

According to Frank Thomas, the former technical director for the USGA, the industry-coerced rule on COR (coefficient of restitution, or spring-like effect off a driver face) combined with the modern ball instantly added 25 yards to the driver distance of the best players in the world and was "the single biggest change in the history of golf equipment."

A rule adopted in 1984 stated, "… the face or clubhead shall not have the effect at impact of a spring." Which was fine since the wooden-headed drivers of the day had none. A decade later when club makers started making heads out of titanium, they inadvertently created clubs with a spring-like effect.

Discovered after the fact, the USGA decided it couldn't or wouldn't enforce the rule and so instead created a limit on COR of 0.83. According to Thomas, this was a bit like saying, "no smoking in this restaurant, but six cigarettes is OK."

Still, to fully benefit from this effect, you have to be swinging your driver at 110 mph or better. So the best players benefit, while the rest of us see only marginal improvement, if any.

Dealing with Bomb and Gouge
Apparently unable to head off distance gains by the best players thanks to their own rules compromises, the USGA seems to have turned their attention from the "bomb" to the "gouge."

The recent study on grooves indicates that tour-level players can indeed generate more spin out of rough less than four inches tall with today's U-shaped grooves than yesterday's V-shaped grooves.

USGA Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge was quoted in Mike Stachura's Golf Digest article citing statistics indicating the correlation between driving accuracy and rank on the money list has dropped to zero when in the 1980s it was as statistically significant as greens in regulation and putting. [Editor's Note: Our Numbers Game columnist, Dave Koster, determined that it factored in at only 10% or so. For more on his 40-30-20-20 rule, read the original article.]

While Rugge says the study was done only to start a "conversation" on the issue, that he and his staff of engineers and technicians spent 18 months putting it together would indicate he considers grooves a serious problem.

Not everyone agrees. John Solheim, chairman and CEO of Ping, was quoted in Stachura's article as saying:

Golf doesn't need another groove controversy. The rulebook is already filled with rules on grooves. Growing our sport presents enough of a challenge. The game does not need its rules-making body focused on an issue that was resolved nearly 20 years ago. We have been there, and done that. Let's move on.

And you have to wonder if a rules change is even realistic. What are they going to do, rule every wedge and iron now in existence illegal? Rule them out over a period of time so that, say, in 2012 you can throw your classic Mizunos in the garbage?

It's the Course, Stupid
U-grooves are an advantage from grass less than four inches high. They are not from rough higher than that. So, instead of changing the specifications for an entire industry, why not just grow the grass a little higher?

The USGA did just that at Winged Foot last June and saw a winning score from the best players in the world of five over par… with U-grooves.

Equipment expert Tom Wishon of Wishon Golf is quoted as saying:

Why can't they increase average rough height to bring it more in line with swing speeds? I guarantee that the iron-speed equivalent of a 125 mph driver swing can't cut through six-inch rough, but it sure can get through four-inch rough.

They don't grow the grass because the PGA Tour wants to see its players posting red numbers to entertain its fans. And, apparently, the USGA looks to the PGA Tour as the definition of the game today.

And that's my problem. Golf isn't about the PGA Tour. It's about you and me and everyone who plays it.

What's Really Important?
Somehow, somewhere, the USGA has lost its way. In the midst of all their rules changes and gnashing of teeth over the performance of the best players in the world, they're presiding over a game that has stopped growing.

It's stopped growing because it's too hard, too expensive, and takes too much time. Focusing resources on such a seeming non-issue as square grooves doesn't address any of the fundamental issues in the game today.

For all their worry, the USGA should realize that driving distance and scoring haven't changed for the average player. Trying to control the best players in the world shouldn't come at our expense.

Frank Thomas says it even better on his website:

The real problem in golf is not that the pros are hitting the ball too far. The game is becoming less popular, and fewer people are enjoying it. Yes, some golfers are masochists and love to play courses that are forever being made longer and harder and more expensive. Most aren't. The disproportionate attention to distance leads developers and architects to build courses that take longer to play, cost more to create and maintain - and thus to play - and are intimidating to the less-skilled golfer we should be encouraging instead of driving away.

These are the issues we should urge the USGA to focus on. Even though the popularity of the game is not an explicit part of its charter, it is nonetheless a good measure of how effective it is as the game's guardian.

Golf needs strong and sound leadership to reinforce some of its cracking foundations, and the USGA is the only organization we have that can play this role. Worrying about new specifications for grooves, to solve a problem that has not been adequately defined, may not be the best focal point for the USGA at this time.

In the End…
I'm not happy with the USGA right now. I don't like their direction on rules. I don't like the idea of their corporate sponsors. I don't like what they're not doing to grow the game. I'm not alone. In a poll Frank Thomas conducted on his website, 89% of the respondents said they did not believe the USGA was properly representing the average golfer. What do you think?

Discussion

  1. Many thoughts spring to mind as I read this.

    The USGA dropped the ball on COR and the PGA Tour has dropped the ball on not enacting some of its own rules. I think the ball has little to do with all of this, as I've long said that today's Pro V1x is just yesteryear's Pinnacle with a bit more spin around the greens.

    Larger headed drivers, I believe, primarily benefit amateurs, but they do allow a pro to swing an extra 10 MPH (and thus 15 yards), miss the sweet spot by a quarter inch, and still hit a great drive. The average amateur likely still struggles to hit within one inch of the sweet spot. So call it a wash.

    The average amateur probably couldn't care less what shape their grooves are. They're not using them anywhere near full effectiveness, and heck, they'd have to scrape the five years of gunk from their grooves anyway. I see a change in groove rules as primarily affecting only the top-tier golfers, and while it may not be the "USGA's job" per se to deal only with the top-tier golfers, it is their job to have fair rules. Rough is meant to be a penalty. For the average golfer, it always will be. For the pro, it's become much less so because of grooves (if the study is to be believed).

    I've seen other ideas proposed: cap the loft of a wedge at 56° or cut the # of allowed clubs to 12. Both have plusses and minuses - neither I would deem acceptable or worthy of consideration.

    And still, true, it's about the courses. I'm in favor of less sand bunkers and more grass bunkers - bunkers pose almost no problem for pros while causing endless problems for most amateurs. The opposite is true, too: pros usually despise grass bunkers while the average golfer would much rather hit from grass than sand.

    Also, the average golfer needs to stop believing that their local muni should look like Augusta National. I saw nothing wrong - and many things right - about Royal Liverpool at the '06 Open.

    The average golfer also needs to stop believing that the only way to enjoy a course is from the tips. The average golfer needs to stop believing that five hours is an acceptable time in which to play golf, regardless of how quickly the pros play. Any time I see a guy plumb-bobbing his third putt I want to remind the guy his putt isn't worth $250,000 or the realization of his life-long dream.

    Tiger Woods, as usual, throws a kink in the system. He just had to go and win two majors last year by hitting something like five times as many tee shots with his 3-wood, 5-wood, and irons as he did with his driver. Tiger Woods: the exception to every generalization about golf.

    Dave's 40-30-20-10 rule, though not perfect every week, does show that putting and hitting greens in regulation are the keys to winning on the PGA Tour. Dave has also shown that the long-driving pros aren't hitting more greens (or getting closer to the hole) than the accurate-driving pros, too. So, is there really a problem with the professional game, or more so with the "average golfer"?

  2. Patrick says:

    Great article. I cannot agree more. Although I am a scratch player and should benefit from technology I don't like the trend.

    One of my favorite holes in my club was meant to be a tough driver hole - then 7 iron into the green. Now I either play 3 wood and 6-7 iron or just hit the driver over everything and try to squeeze a wedge out of the rough (since the fairway narrows 300yds down). I dont like that play very much and the hole has lost most of its magic.

    With my best shots I didnt gain much distance compared to 15 years ago, but everything off-center I hit 30yds past my "historic me." Who cares about grooves? Bring back smaller clubheads and the Titleist Tour Balata 90s (which don't even fly with modern golfclubs).

  3. Who cares about grooves? Bring back smaller clubheads and the Titleist Tour Balata 90s (which don't even fly with modern golfclubs).

    Changing the ball isn't the solution, and you seem to be misunderstanding something I would consider obvious to a scratch golfer: each generation of ball is tuned to maximize potential with the clubheads popular in those days. In other words, a modern ball wouldn't fare very well off a persimmon driver just as a modern driver wouldn't fare very well with an old balata. You do remember when a Tour player with eight degrees of loft on his driver was an anomaly, right? Now they've all got 8 or 9!

  4. Jack Waddell says:

    I've seen other ideas proposed: cap the loft of a wedge at 56° or cut the # of allowed clubs to 12. Both have plusses and minuses - neither I would deem acceptable or worthy of consideration.

    Interesting idea, though, on reducing the number of allowable clubs. I don't see it happening, due to screams from the industry (less clubs to sell!) But still, Frank Thomas proposed a 10-club limit in an op ed piece in the NY Times last April.

    The USGA has to be careful with rules in the direction they're going. Soon they could reach a point where the average golfer just chooses to ingnore them. What a pity that would be.

  5. Allin says:

    I agree with most of the previous suggestions. I especially like the idea of addressing agronomy issues. My home course is so over watered in the summer that the ball routinely plugs in the fairway. For the pros if fairways and greens are firm and graduated rough is used with 6+ inches for shots more than 15-30? feet off the fairway then bombing won't be an advantage unless you are also straight, who has a problem with that?. I think the PGA tour is to focused on low scores. Sand type in bunkers should vary week to week, just like grass type and course design. Firm fariways make you use different clubs, sand wedges and lob wedges are risky on firm fairways. Fans love to see real shotmaking. Basically I am tired of courses trying to be the next Augusta.

  6. Marty Strumpf says:

    Jack I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment (full disclosure: I am Jack's "PGA Pro friend" but that is not why I am agreeing with him).

    At the highest levels of golf performance (low single digit hdcps to pros-"the golfing minority") the challenge of the game is based more on short game and keeping things together mentally rather than ball striking ability/distance.

    If the average golfer (15-25 hdcp-"the majority") gets some more joy out of the game because they hit better shots, who cares?

    The game that is played by the minority has NEVER resembled that of the masses. Is tournament golf less exciting to watch because the top players can hit the ball a mile and spin the ball from everywhere? I say no. It's fun to watch masters at their craft. If the rest of us can live the illusion of being a master at this confounding game by using advanced equipment, who cares?

    Note to Patrick-I know that there are many like you who would argue that they relish the challenge of playing holes the way they were intended to "in the old days". Why don't you just use inferior (outdated) equipment? Why is it incumbent on the USGA to mandate this?

    The USGA and the rest of the governing bodies of golf should focus their efforts on the issue that is a universal problem: SLOW PLAY !! How about a study showing that a continuous putting rule would cut the total time to play significantly while not adversely affecting conditions (see Dave Pelz's lumpy doughnut theory). I just finished reading the latest issue of GolfWorld magazine and the final round of the LPGA event took 5 hours and 50 minutes to complete. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? How often have any of us played either a tournament or casual round in under 4½ hours?

    I just don't understand who or what the USGA is trying "to protect". I don't think the USGA really has a clue about what's important to the MAJORITY of golfers. They have an incredible array of resources that could be put to use to far more important issues that would make the game more accessible for the masses. You want to "protect" the game? You need to do something different because sooner rather than later nobody's going to be playing it and it won't be because the equipment makes it too easy.

  7. Allin says:

    Marty, you are right. Instead of leading the game in a direction which grows the game, gives course owners and private clubs a financial chance they are acting primarially in the interest of the elites. Top pros, and the top 50 courses. I feel this emphasis on difficulty is leading to an increasing sameness for PGA tour courses. As far as speed of play, the long par 3s and par 4s with lots of sand and water are major contributors. I play a course several times a summer on which I move up to the whites for the par 3s because they all require 185-210 yard carries over water from the blues, 200-235 total yards. The back tees on the longest is 270 yards (close to 250 to carry the water) I know I am invalidating my handicap but geez. They are stil 160 - 180 carries from the whites. I never play this course on the weekend because of 6+ hour rounds. Erics grass bunkers is the kind of idea which should be encouraged. Cheaper to maintain, aids, speed play, still fair.

  8. RT says:

    I honestly think limiting the number of clubs in the bag is an interesting concept. 9 clubs is perfect :twisted:

  9. Barry says:

    I agree with your dissatisfaction with the USGA, but think you've drawn the wrong conclusions from the facts.

    After an excellent short history of the USGA dropping the ball on distance, you've quite rightly exposed the groove changes to be a silly "too little, too late" solution.

    I believe that a phased rollback to the ball (as suggested by Nicklaus & countless others) seems like the most sensible solution. It is, after all, a CONSUMABLE item for all intents and purposes, and would address many ills all at once.

    Shorter ball = shorter courses.

    1. Shorter courses = less expensive to maintain courses (for a thousand reasons, please don't even attempt to argue this point). It's almost amways easier to move tees up as opposed to moving them back.
    2. Course that don't cost so much to maintain don't cost as much to play. More affordable golf is a good thing, no?
    3. Shorter courses also = shorter rounds. I agree with the above poster who said slow play is the biggest problem golf has (though it sounds like we'd disagree on just about everything else).

    Who is the USGA trying to protect? For some bizarre reason, the answer seems to be Titleist. A better question is why?

    While we're asking questions how about this one...How long will the other OEMs stay on board when this pain in the a$$ groove business kicks in? Other ex post facto club changes could follow.

    If I'm Callaway, Nike, et al, a ball rollback looks REAL good to me right now. I can keep selling clubs under the current rules, and maybe in the new world order of a shorter ball I may pick up some market share.

    Once again… the ball is a CONSUMABLE ITEM. If you are going to make the golfing public buy something different, why not make it something we're going to have to buy anyway?

  10. I believe that a phased rollback to the ball (as suggested by Nicklaus & countless others) seems like the most sensible solution. It is, after all, a CONSUMABLE item for all intents and purposes, and would address many ills all at once.

    Obviously, I cannot disagree that balls are a consumable product. However, I vehemently disagree that a ball rollback will do anything to solve the "problems" golf currently has.

    First and foremost, allow me once again to point out that the $15/18 balls you could buy 15 years ago perform about as well - off the driver - as the modern top-tier golf ball. They simply didn't spin enough on short irons and around the greens or feel good enough off the putter for pros to use them.

    Shorter ball = shorter courses.

    A shorter course will lead, indeed, to lower maintenance costs, but never has golf gone "backwards" in this regard and I dare say it never will. At several points in the history of golf, we've seen massive increases in distance far exceeding what we've seen in recent years.

    Frank Thomas says we're just about at the theoretical maximum distance golf balls can travel. PGA Tour driving distance has remained rather steady for about the past three to five years. And you can't even attribute the majority of the distance gains in the past 10 years to the ball - what about agronomy (shorter, harder fairways mowed away from the tees), changes in course design, lighter, longer drivers (and shafts), and physical fitness? To what weight do we give those? Nicklaus could bust a 325-yard drive - and he didn't spend three hours a day working out, played with a shorter, steel-shafted driver with a solid wood head, and a smaller clubhead that truly penalized a small miss. The ball plays only a very small role in that equation.

    And all of this supposes that driving distance matters. It doesn't… not when it comes to the PGA Tour and not when it comes to your average 18 handicap. Golf is - and always has been - about hitting greens and putting. In other words, golf is - and always has been - about your short game.

    Given that, some could argue that changing the grooves on clubs will have a larger effect on scoring than simultaneously rolling back the ball and course yardages. What will have changed then? Just yardages - not scores.

    Course that don't cost so much to maintain don't cost as much to play. More affordable golf is a good thing, no?

    Golf courses, like anything in a free economy, also obey the laws of supply and demand. If a golf course makes $3/round now with $1M in maintenance per year, I'm sure they'll be happy to charge you the same rate, get the same amount of play, and simply make $6/round on $750,000 in maintenance costs.

    So no, "cheaper to maintain" doesn't necessarily mean golf will be less expensive, and supposing it to be true is nothing but guesswork and/or hopeful postulation in order to support an argument without any true merit.

    Shorter courses also = shorter rounds.

    Not necessarily. Look at the courses which host the AT&T. Pace of play at those courses is among the slowest in the nation. And on average, every 100 yards you shave from a course may result in, what, 2 minutes per round faster play?

    It would be far more effective to simply educate golfers on pace of play and to enforce a policy on pace of play at a per-course basis. There's no reason whatsoever golfers can't get around a course from an appropriate set of tees at any golf course in the world in under four hours.

    While we're asking questions how about this one...How long will the other OEMs stay on board when this pain in the a$$ groove business kicks in? Other ex post facto club changes could follow.

    They could. And what would be so wrong with that? The USGA has goofed on a few things by not having the foresight to see what club manufacturers could do. If the grooves thing works out, why not try rolling back things like clubhead size or CoR?

    If I'm Callaway, Nike, et al, a ball rollback looks REAL good to me right now. I can keep selling clubs under the current rules, and maybe in the new world order of a shorter ball I may pick up some market share.

    Titleist is incredibly dominant (and with good reason) in the ball market - a market with rules on the product. I don't think much would change under a rollback, and again, it wouldn't solve any problems at all.

  11. Barry says:

    Given that, some could argue that changing the grooves on clubs will have a larger effect on scoring than simultaneously rolling back the ball and course yardages. What will have changed then? Just yardages - not scores.

    I don't particularly care about scoring. "Protecting Par" has always sounded absurd to me – if guy is having a great day and the conditions are favorable, let him shoot any red number he can.

    "Just yardages :?: " The last time I checked, hitting a mid iron into a par 4 instead of a wedge changes the complexion of a hole just a bit. With a shorter ball, greens don't need to be protected like Fort Knox, and you can do away with ridiculous pin placements and silly green speeds (which make greens expensive to maintain).

    Golf courses, like anything in a free economy, also obey the laws of supply and demand. If a golf course makes $3/round now with $1M in maintenance per year, I'm sure they'll be happy to charge you the same rate, get the same amount of play, and simply make $6/round on $750,000 in maintenance costs.

    Sorry, but you're contradicting yourself here. "A market works on supply & demand, but not in this case." A course may try to keep extra maintenance savings, but they'll probably find that they will lose business to courses that don't. A free economy tends to work like that.

    Not necessarily. Look at the courses which host the AT&T. Pace of play at those courses is among the slowest in the nation. And on average, every 100 yards you shave from a course may result in, what, 2 minutes per round faster play?

    I think you're looking at this too narrowly. Almost nothing adds time to a round like the rough of which you seem to be so fond. Seriously – think about the last time you were stuck behind a really slow foursome. They were going back and forth, looking for balls in the deep grass to the right of the fairway, weren't they?

    Course setups for a less lively ball could be much less penal, and would play much more quickly (and enjoyably) for players of all abilities.

    They could. And what would be so wrong with that? The USGA has goofed on a few things by not having the foresight to see what club manufacturers could do. If the grooves thing works out, why not try rolling back things like clubhead size or CoR?

    That would be wonderful - I wish they would! But please tell me why is the ball the sacred cow in this equation? If we are going to go tinkering, why not start with the easiest, cheapest option?

  12. I don't particularly care about scoring. "Protecting Par" has always sounded absurd to me – if guy is having a great day and the conditions are favorable, let him shoot any red number he can.

    Barry, that's a straw man argument. I never talked about "protecting par" and I couldn't care less if the winning score of a PGA Tour event is -20 or +20. It's all relative.

    "Just yardages :?: " The last time I checked, hitting a mid iron into a par 4 instead of a wedge changes the complexion of a hole just a bit. With a shorter ball, greens don't need to be protected like Fort Knox, and you can do away with ridiculous pin placements and silly green speeds (which make greens expensive to maintain).

    Your approach to this problem is incredibly simplistic, Barry.

    Sorry, but you're contradicting yourself here. "A market works on supply & demand, but not in this case." A course may try to keep extra maintenance savings, but they'll probably find that they will lose business to courses that don't. A free economy tends to work like that.

    There's no contradiction in what I've stated, and your approach to economics also appears to be relatively simplistic. Barry, you're guessing that decreased maintenance costs would lead to lower costs to play golf, but you don't know for sure. And economics will tell you your guess is likely wrong - the "extra" profits will either be re-invested or simply kept.

    And, as with the pace of play, it's highly likely that a great deal more money could be saved by simply educating golfers on the exceedingly high cost of having Augusta-like conditions. Changing expectations - and a little extra attention to details like fixing ballmarks and not driving all over the lot in a cart - could go a long way.

    I think you're looking at this too narrowly. Almost nothing adds time to a round like the rough of which you seem to be so fond.

    I've not talked about rough, Barry. The word "rough" appeared exactly once in my comment, and it was the first one I left. And, having written it, I can say precisely that in no way did I imply that I was "so fond" of rough.

    Seriously – think about the last time you were stuck behind a really slow foursome. They were going back and forth, looking for balls in the deep grass to the right of the fairway, weren't they?

    Nope. My home course has very little rough and a good amount of trees. The slow members at my club a) talk too much, b) plumb-bob, c) dilly-dally, d) don't observe proper cart etiquette (i.e. drop partner off, go look for own ball), and so on. Looking for a ball in the rough is the least of the concerns.

    Course setups for a less lively ball could be much less penal, and would play much more quickly (and enjoyably) for players of all abilities.

    Except they wouldn't be… we have golf courses now. What's everyone supposed to do - go and remodel them? Great - you've probably just wiped out any maintenance savings for the next ten years. Besides, golfers like penal courses. They pay more for them. That doesn't make it right, but I'm guessing you'll have a harder time convincing them that penal isn't really great than convincing them that five hour rounds are unacceptable, and we all know how well the latter has been accomplished.

    That would be wonderful - I wish they would! But please tell me why is the ball the sacred cow in this equation? If we are going to go tinkering, why not start with the easiest, cheapest option?

    Because the ball is not the easiest or cheapest option, nor is it the fairest, nor the one that would have the most impact.

    If you'd like to continue the discussion via email, by all means send me an email or post in the forum. Otherwise, let's let others carry on from here.

  13. Dan says:

    Do we really expect that most average golfers will go out and buy new wedges just because of a rule change? If they need new ones because of wear and tear, they'll have no choice. Otherwise, I highly doubt it.

    Further, I think it would be much better for the game if distance limits were imposed by the laws of physics with respect to ball, club and player ability. If we are really nearing the limits of what can be achieved with ball technology, as Frank Thomas says, why don't we let that be the limit? I would rather play a game with "natural" limitations instead of being subject to the arbitrary rules of some governing body.

    Finally, from my perspective, the two biggest areas of improvement in the game are pace of play and quality, availability and affordability of instruction. We all know that the average male handicap is somewhere around 16, and has been forever. This is only among people that HAVE handicaps, which indicates some level of serious commitment to the game. For many people, just hitting the ball solidly throughout a round is nearly impossible. Golf is difficult, but not THAT hard. Effective, affordable instruction would lead to more golf business, and more enjoyable (and likely faster) rounds for the player, in my opinion.

  14. Do we really expect that most average golfers will go out and buy new wedges just because of a rule change?

    Most average golfers, I'll point out, don't follow the rules anyway, nor do they enter events for "highly skilled players."

    Further, I think it would be much better for the game if distance limits were imposed by the laws of physics with respect to ball, club and player ability. If we are really nearing the limits of what can be achieved with ball technology, as Frank Thomas says, why don't we let that be the limit?

    We're at the limit given the current ball, club, and so on rules. Again, PGA Tour driving distances haven't increased much lately. The groove change is more about, I believe, easily getting at an incredibly tucked pin. If you're in the rough and approaching a tucked pin, the USGA is saying, basically, you should not be able to spin the ball as much as you currently can.

    I would rather play a game with "natural" limitations instead of being subject to the arbitrary rules of some governing body.

    We've had rules for a long time, including the size and weight of the golf ball, maximum club length, and all sorts of other things. Rules books have an incredible number of actual measurements.

    As to the rest of your comment, I doubt you'll find many people that would disagree with you on the issues of slow play and availability of instruction for a good rate.

  15. LongBall says:

    Wow-the USGA is determined to turn away the average golfer from the game! The proposed groove rule is directed at one group and one group only- the PGA tour.

    Golf is far and away the most expensive mainstream sport to play, to practice, and to buy equipment for.
    Although buying new equipment isn't a big issue for me financially, I'm sure it is for many recreational and young golfers. "Top tier" equipment is insanely expensive- $400 for a driver, $200 for fairway woods/hybrids, $800 for a set of irons, $120 per wedge, and $100+ for a putter. That's not even counting the $4 per ball.
    Many buy, or save to buy, such equipment under the premise that it is approved and legal for play. Then the USGA tells you it has reconsidered, your current equipment is illegal, and you need to buy all new equipment. WHAT AN INJUSTICE!!

    There's a simple way to counteract players spinning the ball too much from the rough; grow the rough longer. I would like to see any club spin the ball from 6 inches of rough. Equipment has changed drastically over the last 40 years, yet the USGA still manages to make shooting even a challenge at the US open. And these are at the same courses played for 40 years. That's the beauty of golf- each course is different. Furthermore, each course can be setup amazingly different. Wasn't it Mike Souchak that shot 30 under at the Texas Open about 40 years ago? That record stood for many many years.

    The USGA needs to adapt rather than move backward. Lengthen courses, grow rough, tuck pins, speed up and firm up greens, etc. It isn't rocket science. The USGA feels that somehow if tour players today can spin the ball better from the rough than Nicklaus or even Bobby Jones could, than it is somehow unfair. I haven't heard any players on tour complaining about grooves that spin too much. You'd figure that short straight hitters would boycott for limiting grooves, but I have never heard of a single pro complaining.

    The USGA needs to focus on steps to make the game more enjoyable and faster for the average golfer. Let's face it, golf for a beginner is difficult and frustrating. It's a game that requires much time and perseverance. Why not make it as easy as possible for newcomers and average golfers?

  16. Golf is far and away the most expensive mainstream sport to play, to practice, and to buy equipment for.

    Golf is also the only mainstream sport that requires 250 acres of cared-for terrain, including unusual features like little beaches in the middle of a field and grass cut to 3/64 of an inch.

    Other sports have "equipment" costs far exceeding golf, as do other hobbies - flyfishing, hunting, photography, even scrapbooking. It's the playing of golf that usually nabs you, not the equipment per se.

    I would like to see any club spin the ball from 6 inches of rough.

    I'd like to see any senior golfer advance the ball more than five yards from six inches of rough. And if you're thinking of PGA Tour courses, we have long rough: at the U.S. open, once per year. I hardly think golf would make for popular television if every tournament turned into the U.S. Open.

    And these are at the same courses played for 40 years.

    One only has to look at the width of the fairways, the height of the rough, and the location of the pins on the greens (three paces from the edge these days?) to know that these aren't the same courses, even when they are in name.

    The USGA needs to focus on steps to make the game more enjoyable and faster for the average golfer. Let's face it, golf for a beginner is difficult and frustrating. It's a game that requires much time and perseverance. Why not make it as easy as possible for newcomers and average golfers?

    Your argument is all over the place. First you talk about how this change is only for the PGA Tour, and now you talk as if it's making the game harder for average golfers.

    And frankly, I don't even agree that the game needs to be made easier. It took me nearly three years to get down to shooting consistently in the 70s. If I had done that my fifth time out, I doubt very much I'd still be playing golf these days. The fact that I'm a 3 handicap and not scratch gets me to the course every day I'm able to go.

  17. Jack Waddell says:

    And if you're thinking of PGA Tour courses, we have long rough: at the U.S. open, once per year. I hardly think golf would make for popular television if every tournament turned into the U.S. Open.

    One only has to look at the width of the fairways, the height of the rough, and the location of the pins on the greens (three paces from the edge these days?) to know that these aren't the same courses, even when they are in name.

    Erik, you're contradicting yourself. The courses are already set up more difficult on the PGA Tour every week... especially pin positions... just not quite as ridiculous as the U.S. Open. Growing rough for those event seems a simpler solution than a wholesale change of equipment. And, obviously in doing so, they don't have to make the fairways as narrow as at the Open.

    Just as is true today, those "tournament" conditions need not be part of every course's normal setup.

    And, no, I don't think it would be any less entertaining to watch the best players in the world challenged more... which, when you think about it, seems to be the intent of this rules change anyway.

    So do you make it harder for the world's best by changing equipment or changing the course?

    Your argument is all over the place. First you talk about how this change is only for the PGA Tour, and now you talk as if it's making the game harder for average golfers.

    And frankly, I don't even agree that the game needs to be made easier. It took me nearly three years to get down to shooting consistently in the 70s. If I had done that my fifth time out, I doubt very much I'd still be playing golf these days. The fact that I'm a 3 handicap and not scratch gets me to the course every day I'm able to go.

    That the game doesn't need to be made easier for you is certainly a testimony to your skill, perserverance, and apparent need to be challenged. :razz:

    But the fact of the matter is that the game is too hard and thus takes too long to play for the average golfer. Keeping grooves as they are doesn't make it easier, it keeps it where it is. And that's just one of many reasons why I think this proposed rule change is unnecessary and ill-considered.

    I'm with Frank Thomas. I don't think what the top 0.5% of golfers are capable of doing with square grooves matters to the game. And I don't think it matters to the other 99.5% of golfers either.

    Of greater import is the likelhood that this proposed rule could open a can of worms in the form of lawsuits that the USGA spends tons of money on to thwart. Would you rather see the USGA spend money on lawyers or on growing the game?

  18. Erik, you're contradicting yourself. The courses are already set up more difficult on the PGA Tour every week... especially pin positions... just not quite as ridiculous as the U.S. Open. Growing rough for those event seems a simpler solution than a wholesale change of equipment.

    Growing rough that long takes weeks and months. Should a course really sacrifice playability for 99.5% of the golf population just so it can host some pros once a year?

    And, no, I don't think it would be any less entertaining to watch the best players in the world challenged more... which, when you think about it, seems to be the intent of this rules change anyway.

    I think the intent of the rules change is to make three- or four-inch rough a penalty once again, to make "shortsiding" oneself a penalty once again, and that, by the way, will affect far more than the 0.5% of professional golfers. I'll feel the pain, too, and I'm still for it.

    So do you make it harder for the world's best by changing equipment or changing the course?

    Clearly the USGA has little input on the setup of PGA Tour courses, so they are taking care of the things they're entitled to take care of - the rules.

    But the fact of the matter is that the game is too hard and thus takes too long to play for the average golfer.

    I disagree that difficulty equates to pace of play. I've seen - and was myself when I first started out - some really fast players shoot 100. I've seen players shoot 68 and take five hours to do so.

    Part of the allure of golf is the difficulty. It's what makes that one great shot everyone is bound to hit in a round so amazing, so powerful that it brings you back time and time again.

    I'm with Frank Thomas. I don't think what the top 0.5% of golfers are capable of doing with square grooves matters to the game. And I don't think it matters to the other 99.5% of golfers either.

    You're clinging to the 0.5% thing because it kinda helps your argument, but saying so suggests that a 3-handicapper like myself sees no advantage from the grooves. I do. Suddenly your 0.5% expands tenfold to 5%.

    Of greater import is the likelhood that this proposed rule could open a can of worms in the form of lawsuits that the USGA spends tons of money on to thwart. Would you rather see the USGA spend money on lawyers or on growing the game?

    That's a silly argument, Jack, and in discussing it with you seems to be the crux of your disagreement with the USGA. There's been no rules change. They've simply proposed it ("USGA Announces Two New Equipment Proposals…"), and will thus gauge feedback from manufacturers. If they sense a problem that will likely cost them boatloads of cash in courts, and proceed anyway, I'll be first in line to bash them as stupid. But I believe they put it out for discussion simply to gauge reaction. It can still be withdrawn. It's not been codified as an actual rule, yet. If there's little or no push-back from the manufacturers, and no large lawsuits, your disappointment will have been misplaced.

  19. Mallard T. Drake says:

    The easiest and most effective way to speed up a round of golf has nothing to do with equipment or course size. The solution is to allow marshalls the authority to boot groups for slow play. I have played at a few high end courses, and they note start times for each group and check perodically if they are keeping pace. If not, one or two warnings are given and then out they go if they can't keep up. Unfortunately at our local munis and semi-private courses, the marshalls just drive around and around and don't do anything. Occasionally, I will stop one and point out a group that is lagging in their pace ahead of us, but the marshalls never want to confront them.

    Slow play and people that won't fix their ball marks are the two biggest annoyances on the course.

  20. Good Grass says:

    Maybe the USGA should spend some time investigating the "grinding off" of the soles of the wedges used in the ruff. The Pros go beyond normal customizing and yet its never mentioned.

    Very disappointing.

  21. Uncle Sammy says:

    I'm sorry but this is another "knee jerk" reaction by a governing body that does NOT govern & has not governed for some years now. The proverbial 'horse has already left the barn" lets' close the door. PLEASE! "the clubface shall not have the effect of a spring. PERIOD is the way the 'old rule was written. not , oh according to less than COR 830 etc. Again, the balls initial velocity is way beyond the 'old' rules of just 10-20 yrs. ago before metals came into vogue. Did'n't have to worry about it then. Early metals, if they flexed in the face STAYED flexed (dented) no worry, throw it away, useless. Now we put band aids on bullet wounds and wonder why we can't stop the bleeding! Its ridiculous, Fix the GD problem & we all know what that is, balls & clubfaces. But hey, manufacturers would lose billions! Hmmmmmmmmmmm, maybe a bailout is in order, heck we can pay for that too! NOT!
    Time to replace the government if its ineffective!!!!!!!!!

  22. Matt M says:

    None of this considers the conditions of a modern golf course, the equipment currently used to mow greens, the irrigation and drainage available, and the chemicals available to prevent disease.

    In 1984 a green mowing height of 7/64s or 1/8th would have been unheard of on a green that received the number of rounds of a municipal course these days. The grass would have wilted and died from lack of water or disease partway through the season.

    Now greens at 1/8th can sustain 7 minute tee time intervals. This is the characteristic of modern courses that nobody has considered. This is the chicken and the egg argument. Did golfers switch to square grooves because the greens got tougher or did the greens get tougher because the golfers switched to square grooves? I would argue the latter. Golf course supers pushed the limits of what they could do with grass and as a result we were forced to adapt.

    I will agree with everybody that the COF rule has lead to a necessity to lengthen golf courses but this conversation isn't about whether change will happen. Change is inevitable and it's how we handle change that defines our legacy. Additionally people are missing the boat on the driving accuracy bit. In order to cope with modern technology courses have been lengthened. You know how they lengthen a course right? They push some dirt into a mound and make a tee box that's 50 yards further back then the last tee box. They don't lengthen the fairway to match the tee adjustment. That's too expensive. So what do you have now. You have people hitting at the same narrow winding fairways but they're doing it from 50 yards back at angles that narrow the course in a way that the architect never originally intended. So yes people used to hit the ball in the fairway more often and that used to be more closely tied to success on tour and at the local course but now when you make contact with the ball at a club face angle that's 1degree off over 300 yards you're guaranteed to miss the fairway.

    If anything Golf courses and the fact that golf now has legitimate athletes playing the game at the highest level have caused golf to become even more difficult and precise not less.

    I for 1 still cannot rip back a wedge from 120 and 3 inches of rough and I probalby never will.

  1. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

  2. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

  3. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

  4. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

  5. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

  6. [... With the USGA's recent announcement that they've glommed onto yet another corporate sponsor (I wonder how many Open tickets American Express and Lexus bigwigs are getting?) ostensibly to help with ...]

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