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USGA Becoming Golf’s Repo Man?

Mar. 6, 2007     By     Comments (18)

Is the USGA's new proposal really about grooves? I think that's only part of the story.

Swing ThoughtsGreetings from semi-retirement, Sand Trappers. I couldn't help but chime in with a quick thought or two about the USGA's announcement (and concurrent R&A announcement) proposing a change in the rules regarding grooves on irons and wedges.

When I first read the proposed change last week, it seemed fairly reasonable. It would only affect the best players using urethane balls, which might increase the importance of driving accuracy without taking the air out of the ball or changing driver designs. But then I wondered if this proposal has a deeper meaning that isn't so benign.

As it has for decades, the USGA (and R&A) is setting a regulation for how equipment can be made for use in competition or for handicap purposes. Nothing new there, right? Wrong. The proposal to change groove regulations marks a significant new strategy for the USGA. Instead of setting a limit on future performance gains, the groove proposal is an attempt by the USGA to roll back performance and take away something that they've already approved.

Think about it. The 460cc limit on driver size? Imposed before most companies had gotten anywhere close to it. The 0.83 limit on Coefficient of Restitution? A limit based on the hottest drivers that were already on the market. Neither of those controversial rules changes took widely used clubs out of the hands of professionals and amateurs alike.

But if you've bought irons or wedges in the last 20 years, those clubs probably have grooves that will run afoul of the new USGA proposal. If you've bought wedges in the last couple years, especially wedges like Titleist's Vokey Design Spin Milled models or Callaway's X-Tour wedges with MD grooves, those will definitely need to be shelved in a couple years.

So what, you say? Sure, a lot of us buy new irons and wedges every couple years. We'll just buy irons and wedges that conform to the new rules the next time we upgrade, right? Sure thing.

But what's chilling is that the USGA has decided to put the genie back in the bottle with square grooves, one of the biggest hot-button issues in equipment history. If the change to groove depth and shape doesn't make whatever difference the USGA intends, what else will be taken away?

"Well, we goofed on 460cc drivers, let's take that back to 300cc. And let's nudge that COR back to 0.70, and dial back the distance of the golf ball, too."

Will that happen? Who knows? But I think it is significant to point out that this could be a sea change in how the USGA does business. The shift from looking at current performance and saying, "You can have this, but no more" is one thing. Deciding that you can go back and change the rules is something entirely different.

And I thought the USGA didn't believe in mulligans.

Discussion

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Donald,

    I think that's a very important point, and IF this rule as proposed is passed, which is not a certainty at this point, I think the ramifications are interesting. Most people don't even follow the basic rules of re-playing from the tee on an O.B. ball, or replacing the ball if it moves a little when they're in the rough, etc.

    I can't imagine that very many people that aren't involved in "serious" competitions are going to run out and buy new wedges (let alone a whole set of irons) just because of a rule change.

    Even for those of us that are involved in sanctioned events (I play in handicap events run by the state golf association), it's still somewhat unreasonable to expect us all to go out and buy new clubs. I can't generate significant spin from either rough or fairway, so I have no eagerness to spend money just to be "in compliance."

    The reality is that a vast majority of the golfing public will be playing with out-of-compliance clubs if this rule is adopted. Is that what the USGA wants?

    Perhaps it would make more sense as a PGA Tour-specific rule, not a USGA rule, but I doubt the tour would have an interest in implementing such a limitation.

  2. Jack Waddell says:

    Dan and Don:

    You both make good points. As Don wrote, I think this is a terrible precedent to set especially over such a non-issue as the spin pros get out of a certain height of rough.

    As Dan opined, the USGA is starting to make compliance with the rules of golf more of a burden than it should be both in spirit and in cost. That's a wrong-headed direction to take.

    When the USGA can show me that equipment has materially changed the entire face of the game at every level, then I'll listen. Until, then I suggest they spend their research and testing budget on more worthwhile activities than this current boondoogle.

  3. Jack Waddell says:

    I just had to add this:

    Writing in the USGA blog on February 23, Jefff Hall, their director of Rules and Competitions Standards stated:

    "The Rules of Golf are uniform for all who play. The Rules are not different based on one’s age or ability. Playing by the Rules of Golf is then a voluntary thing. Players do it because it is part of the game and expected of them. By receiving the same treatment under the Rules, all golfers have a means of comparing themselves based on their individual talents. The superstar professional does not get a better deal than the beginner."

    Hmm. It would seem that statement will soon become a lie if the proposed groove rule is enacted. Beginning January 1, 2009 there'll be a de facto difference in the rule for better players and the rest of it.

    Once again, nice going USGA.

  4. Alan Olson says:

    Technology has change the game a bit sure, but it isn't like you see a slew of golfers (pro or otherwise) throwing up 59's. It seems to be a big waste of time over an issue that affects 0.05% of golfers in the world.

    It is a bit troubling to see the USGA enact a ruling that takes away something they have already approved.

  5. Tanuki says:

    A very well written piece. I just hope the good people at the USPGA can drag themselves away from their corporate hospitality tents to read it. Worryingly though, this issue has caused little stir at 'The Golf Channel'. To quote:

    "CHANGE IS GOOD: The USGA made proposals to change specifics for grooves ... it sounds like the Blue Coats are trying to make the game a little bit more difficult for the pros and a little easier for the amateurs. And we like the sound of that."

    Ummm... okay.... Rather then saying - "You do realise that if you wanna play by the rules, you're gonna have to throw out those shinny new irons you just brought. Oh yeah, and your old set too. And probably the set before that as well."

    Lets just hope the manufacturers can come to some sort of compromise with the USGA and a line can be drawn in the sand. Then at least the USGA won't lose too much face and I can spend my hard earned money on more green fees and not on replacing perfectly good equipment.

  6. Dave says:

    Is it just me or can they not just simply grow the rough up a little more and actually make it penalizing? You saw furrowed bunkers at the Memorial last year as a good start of taking wayward shots and making them sting a little more than usual.

    I'm sorry USGA, you approved square grooves...right or wrong. Rolling back is only going to flood the market with 'illegal' clubs that not many people are going to want. My 695.MB's? Who is going to want those forged irons? Not a 25 handicapper that doesn't give a rat's behind about the USGA. I'd have to sell them to a low-handicapper...but they are going to be in the same boat as I am.

    Let's start making conditions a bit tougher and neutralize the "square groove from the rough" issue.

  7. Leon says:

    Let's see what USGA will say and do when the 95.5% of us who fund them with our annual memberships start spending that $ on another green fee or a magazine subscription instead !

    Remember the Callaway commercial where the course maintenance guy drives his mower one-handed while sawing off tree limbs with a chainsaw with the other ? I have an electric weed whacker I can modify to run off jumper cables clipped to the golf cart's battery ... and it's small enuf to replace my lob wedge in my golf bag too ! LOL

  8. Steve says:

    Is it just me or can they not just simply grow the rough up a little more and actually make it penalizing? You saw furrowed bunkers at the Memorial last year as a good start of taking wayward shots and making them sting a little more than usual.

    Let's start making conditions a bit tougher and neutralize the "square groove from the rough" issue.

    I agree that the simplest answer would seem to be to actually make it penalizing to miss the fairway. This would certainly bring a stronger correlation between driving accuracy and money won.

    I'm sorry USGA, you approved square grooves...right or wrong. Rolling back is only going to flood the market with 'illegal' clubs that not many people are going to want. My 695.MB's? Who is going to want those forged irons? Not a 25 handicapper that doesn't give a rat's behind about the USGA. I'd have to sell them to a low-handicapper...but they are going to be in the same boat as I am.

    As for your 695.MB's - I believe they have V grooves. My MP-32's, on the other hand...well, I'm out of luck if the proposal becomes enacted.

  9. Timothy D Watson says:

    I am one of the begginer golfers that fall into the catagory of players highly vulnerable to the frustrating aspects of golf like appalling cost and extreme difficulty. :mrgreen: I am "green." I have been in the game since June of 2005.

    All but two of the many golfers I know are "quitting." I mean that they don't play, but can't drop being a golfer completely until they sell their uncleaned, cheap, rusty, incomplete sets for way more than the $25 they would really sell for. One of the two surviving golfers I know was a golf pro and has the game permanently branded into his brain, so he wouldn't quit.

    If the USGA is becoming golf's repo man, I say that more than unconforming grooves are going to be repossesed by this rule if it is made. Every player I've came in contact with personally gets emotional with the thought of using unconforming equipment. This is strange since they play like mulligans are an enactable right, but that is how it is. I play by the rules as best I can by memory and look foward to getting a handicap. If a grooves change is forced on me, I will not be able to afford to play conforming clubs for a good while and my aspirations for a fair calculation of my handicap will be postponed. My ability to compare myself to other golfers and play competitively according to handicap would be "repossesed."

    Also, the last connection to the USGA rules that the average hacker follows will quite possibly be "repossesed" when that is lost in their frustration and resultant total ignoring of the rules. Many players on the edge of quitting could decide to actually do it and a significant portion of golf's following would be "repossesed."

    I think that the large number of mass quitters of the game is the real threat to golf, not that the tournaments and championships are getting less interesting to watch. If there are less golfers, there will be less fans watching just like the result of the events being less interesting.

    I think that the cost of equipment and the overwelming nature of the rules to begginers are things that the ruling bodies would be looking into chiefly if they were "on the mark" regarding improving the game through the rules. My "personal fantasy" rules regarding equipment are as follows:

    1. 385cc limit on clubhead size (to reduce materials and construction requirements needed to create a durable, "maxed out" driver clubhead)

    2. Shafts requred to weight at least 40g for a 46'' length (the $60 Prolaunch Blue 45 Regular Wood Shaft is 44g)

    I understand that the fist rule would be very harsh on lots of people in differant ways, but I can't help thinking it when the average high quality driver costs $200-$1200 (I actually did see somebody buy a driver for $1200).

    Please be tolerant of my newness. :oops: I do not intend to come barging in here expecting mass reverance like some "newbies" to posting. I certainly don't mean to offend anybody or break some kind of unspoken rule, eigther.

  10. teeitup. says:

    All good points but I think the basic point is missed here. This seems to be the USGA asserting itself as the governing body of all of golf - especially the PGA. As such the change in "rules" will really only affect USGA events - US Open etc.

    The fact is professional golf is designed for two things and two things only: Sell Golf Equipment and sell products (ads for Coke, Nissan and RBC etc) and little else. People laud the old school notions of shot placement, good fundamentals and so on but few people watch women's golf and even fewer watch amateur golf which are all about that and sponsors (people selling products to pay for the events) are not flocking to those events.

    People want to see the pros bomb them off the tee, thrash through the woods, and sink the 50 footers, not watch players plod on with a 250 yard drive and a 3 iron to the green. They want something unpredictable to happen and old school golf isn't big on unpredictable events. All the players have the same advantage, if it was such that only three players had top access and the rest were playing with broomsticks and feather filled balls I see the complaint. But each player tees it up from the same place, hits the same ball and uses mostly the same clubs - so the difference is minimal. Folks contend the big hitters have advantages etc. But the sport has always had a few elites and a lot of also-rans and it is no different now than it was where nostalgia clouds the memory.

    The sinister aspect of me thinks it is a move the mfg.'s and the USGA are doing to stimulate the inevitable decline of sales predicted around that time. With ball and club at it's maximum there is no real reason to buy new clubs anymore. But my guess is this is just petty jealously between the money making machine that is the PGA and the "university" temperament of the USGA.

    Prediction: It won't happen at all.

  11. Timothy D Watson says:

    I agree with teeitup that the golf on TV is all about consumerism and amazing shots, at least to me. I only watch golf and not play it when I have nothing better to do. When I do, I generally fall asleep to it unless I catch a glimse of a new prototype club or someone drives the ball to within three feet of the hole. Really, I enjoy the occasional equipment commercial (daft since I disagree with them) more than the actual programming. In hindsight, shame on me. I don't think that the rule will fly eigther, but it sure is disturbing that it could.

  12. All good points but I think the basic point is missed here. This seems to be the USGA asserting itself as the governing body of all of golf - especially the PGA. As such the change in "rules" will really only affect USGA events - US Open etc.

    That couldn't be further from the truth. The PGA Tour abides by USGA rules, and the USGA is recommending even club championships and other events with "highly skilled golfers" abide by this rule as of 2009, and that all golfers abide by 2010.

    Furthermore, the USGA is not the "governing body of all of golf" - the R&A controls much more territory and the USGA has never done anything to threaten their "hold" on every other country but the U.S. and Mexico.

    The fact is professional golf is designed for two things and two things only: Sell Golf Equipment and sell products (ads for Coke, Nissan and RBC etc) and little else.

    Gee, I guess I'm wrong to be entertained, DVR golf so I can skip commercials, and make up my own mind when choosing equipment. Silly me, independent thinker that I am.

    I won't argue that golf is subsidized - everything is these days, that's how stuff works - but I think you've taken cynicism to a whole new level.

    People laud the old school notions of shot placement, good fundamentals and so on but few people watch women's golf and even fewer watch amateur golf which are all about that and sponsors (people selling products to pay for the events) are not flocking to those events.

    Sorry, but women and amateurs don't have the same skillset as Tiger Woods. And I do watch LPGA and amateur events, but it's foolish to think that they have more shotmakers with better fundamentals. Weak.

    People want to see the pros bomb them off the tee, thrash through the woods, and sink the 50 footers, not watch players plod on with a 250 yard drive and a 3 iron to the green.

    Like Tiger Woods did at the '07 Open championship? D'oh!

    But the sport has always had a few elites and a lot of also-rans and it is no different now than it was where nostalgia clouds the memory.

    I agree, but I think you've wandered off-point. What exactly does this have to do with grooves?

    Personally, I'm fine with this rule. There are three kinds of golfers. Those that rarely play and haven't got a clue what "ground under repair" is, those that play regularly but suck, and those that play regularly and are halfway decent to very good.

    The first group couldn't care less about the rules, and their $199 Dick's set of clubs or their 20-year old set of clubs is likely already conforming, and even if it weren't, they wouldn't notice or care anyway.

    The second group replaces their clubs every 3-5 years. The first group replaces their clubs every 1-2 years, and they replace their wedges twice as fast or faster.

    Thus, those whining about "wha wha, I'll have to buy new clubs" - guess what? You were going to have to anyway, and most of you don't even have non-conforming irons. It's probably just your wedges, which you almost definitely were going to replace.

    I think, as I said in the podcast, that "less spin" from the rough (and I'm going on the USGA's scientific word here) will result in more sane pin placements and an increase in shotmaking and decisionmaking. It's no longer a thrill when a pro throws an 8-iron over a bunker to a pin tucked four paces from the edge of a green and sticks it.

    And that decision will go back to the tee: pros may decide they don't want to play from the rough as much as they do. Whether they ease up on their driver or opt to hit a 3-wood, so be it.

    And the decision will extend even to shots coming from the fairway, as pros who can't spin a high-lofted shot from greenside rough won't want to short-side themselves.

    Realistically, this change affects 5-10% of the golf population in terms of "playing" - single digit handicappers are good enough to see the difference between U-grooved wedges and older V-grooved wedges. Most 10+ handicappers rarely hit the green from 100 yards, let alone with a flush shot that will spin properly.

    Financially, this change would affect almost nobody. Dave, sorry, but you won't have to dust-bin your 695.MBs - nor will most people. Your irons likely aren't U-grooved. Your wedges, sure - but you'll replace them a few times before 2009 or 2010 rolls around.

    Finally, I see this as an interesting test. What other "rollbacks" might the USGA "propose" if this goes over smoothly. Perhaps none. Perhaps CoR or driver head size. We'll have to wait and see. But since this wouldn't even take effect until 2009 or 2010, as a test case, we'd have to wait until at least 2012 or so before the next "proposal" comes down the pipeline.

  13. Timothy D Watson says:

    Clubs are restoreable for very little in spent supplies if the owner knows what they are doing. This saves allot of money since "groveless," rust covered clubs can be made like new or nicer in most cases for around $8. Even after 50 years of use by many people, this can be possible for that cost. Changing unconforming grooves to V-grooves would be extremely difficult and costly from what I know.

    Unless I golf another 40 years, I probably won't find much good reason to replace my short irons other than this potential rules change. In my hands, the older muscleback short-irons work better than the modern cavitybacks and beyond. Wedges haven't changed in a significant way for restorers in 50 years. Square grooves are better in wedges, but when regrooving, that can be taken care of. I don't think I am going to buy new short-irons or wedges for any reason other than my potential curiosity.

    My best hitting club, a Snake Eyes Quick Strike Q3 U 23* fairway-like hybrid (that I fitted and built myself :cool: ) has U-grooves. I know that I could just ignore the rule, but should the USGA (which has impact on other ruling bodies' decisions) be essentually encouraging me to do so.

    I do agree with Erik that "10+ handicappers" don't hit the green much from afar for the stopping on it to matter, but I still don't want to be stuck with unconforming clubs. Me personally, my problem is putting. It is amazing how little prowess I have in that part of my game :mrgreen: .

  14. Clay says:

    Donald, let me offer a different opinion.

    And, I'd like to bring in another analogy, one that gets away from the emotional and reactive aspects inherent in this discussion. Let's talk about another sport most of us probably love to watch and play, a sport we've probably played longer than we've played golf.

    Baseball.

    Do you know how many equipment improvements/changes that professional baseball has allowed in the last 100 years? Essentially, one.

    Fielder's gloves now have the fingertips laced together to form a basket, which makes it much easier to catch batted balls. Of course, that happened so long ago that the screams of anguish from the purists have long faded away. If there ever were any.

    Baseball, just like golf, is a game of history and statistics. It is that ability to look back through the decades and to connect with those that played before that makes standing on the first tee at Pebble so very special. Or Riviera. Or home plate at Yankee Stadium.

    There have already been so many astonishing improvements in golf equipment that the game has permanently changed from what it was. Yes, it's difficult. So is hitting a major league fastball. But, with non-v shaped grooves, perimeter weighted irons and metal woods, and, of course, the ball, we're getting closer and closer to...honestly, I don't know what. But I don't like it. There needs to be some control over the equipment played in this sport, and that control can NOT be given to manufacturers. You might as well put automobile manufacturers in charge of setting highway speed limits.

    No, I'm not proposing a return to hickory, persimmon, and blades, much less gutta-percha. It's pretty much a truism that older PGA players like Jack prefer returning to what they grew up with. You can't fight progress.

    But you can manage it.

    And that's the job of the USGA, and MLB, and the NBA, etc. Yes, the R&A covers more square miles, but the years of the two organizations going in different directions is over. The USGA has every right to make the decisions that affect the play of golf. It's not only their right, it's their responsibility. I do make a clear and distinct line between the USGA and the PGA TOUR. The TOUR is an entertainment industry. The fact that the product is golf is irrelevant to golfers that don't play on the TOUR. The TOUR has every right to make or change any rule they want. Which is why they did NOT follow the Rules until that last embarrassment a few years ago regarding marking the ball on the putting green with a hotel key. That convinced them that if they wanted credibility with those of us who play the non-TOUR game, maybe following the Rules of Golf would be a good idea.

    The USGA ended up with egg on their face, and deservedly so, after the Ping mess. That's why they're being more careful, more circumspect, and more involved with the club and ball manufacturers going forward. But, the direction is clear, and one that I fully support and agree with.

    Golfers don't quit the game because it's hard. The fact that it's hard is one of the game's greatest attractions. They quit because it's very expensive, and because it takes 6 hours away from your family. Minimum. Perhaps one of the reasons it seems so hard to so many players is because spending $500 on a new driver seems so much more logical than spending $500 on ten lessons.

    Clay

  15. Jack Waddell says:

    Here's a missive from former USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan that I would wish all interested in this topic would read:

    http://www.geoffshackelford.com/display/ShowJournal?moduleId=230137&categoryId=95168

  16. Larry says:

    The groove controversy is a step that creates a precedent to back up driver sizes, COR, and MOI :!: It seems like overkill to penalize the rank and file golfer who struggles to stop a pitching wedge on a green to make sure we lower Tiger's and Leftie's short game prowess. The USGA is saying to golfers everywhere, "Well, we messed up letting you drive that Corvette. You simply have to go back and drive a Pinto now." Who does this rule change on grooves really gratify? Not me. I just bought a new set of 2004 Big Bertha Irons and I don't think I'll throw them away whatever the USGA does. They work great and they were $500 less than those X-20 clubs, which also will be junk after the rule change. Maybe the USGA should incorporate a buy back clause where they offer some kind of exchange? :lol: Or how about they send some guy named Squidward over with a dremel tool to v cut your clubs for $20 so the grooves suit New Jersey? :lol:

  17. Hideo Kobi says:

    The hope of the groove controversey is that it will finally uncover the mystifying and undemocratic way a handful of people in the executive level of the USGA are allowed to make scientifically questionable decisions that can fundamentally affect a agame played by millions.

  18. The hope of the groove controversey is that it will finally uncover the mystifying and undemocratic way a handful of people in the executive level of the USGA are allowed to make scientifically questionable decisions that can fundamentally affect a agame played by millions.

    Apparently you missed all the thoroughly good science the USGA did on this. :-P

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