The USGA Proposal On Grooves
The Wedge GuyFor the past year, the USGA has been conducting an intensive study on the effect of grooves on quality of play, and a proposed rule change regarding groove geometry has finally been proposed. The proposal begins a five to six month period where the USGA will hear feedback and testimony from equipment manufacturers, tournament organizations, and golfers. This proposal is coordinated with a like proposal by the Royal & Ancient.

Let's start with a little background

The USGA and Royal & Ancient are the "watchdogs" for the game, with the daunting task of balancing the technical developments that make golf more fun for the average golfer and their mission of preserving the integrity of this great game. This task has become much more difficult the past ten to fifteen years, as the golf equipment industry has really pushed the envelope in technology in clubs and balls.

What started this particular effort was the statistical realization that driving accuracy has become much less critical to scoring on the PGA Tour over the past decade or so. Today's tour professionals seem to be just as proficient from the rough as the fairway, when it comes to hitting greens and making birdies. So the USGA conducted extensive testing on the effect of modern groove technology. What they found was that today's urethane covered balls, when struck with wedges with precisely machined grooves, will spin as much or more from the rough as older wedges and balls would from a clean fairway lie. But they also found that this improvement was almost totally contained to players at the highest skill level. In other words, there is little premium on driving accuracy for PGA Tour professionals.

What a quandary that puts the USGA in

Their "constituency" is the average amateur golfer, who is only mildly aided by modern balls and groove geometry, but at the top of the golf pyramid, the PGA Tour professional has developed skills and optimized technology to essentially eliminate the need to drive the ball accurately. The rule change as proposed deals with the intricacies of groove geometry - width, symmetry, depth, total groove volume, radius on the edges, and such. Pretty boring stuff unless you're in the equipment business.

The plans to apply the ruling are much more interesting. The USGA is proposing that "the new groove rules would become effective for all new clubs manufactured after January 1, 2010." But they're also recommending that "a Condition of Competition" would be added to the Rules of Golf to become effective January 1, 2009. This would allow a Committee to require the use of clubs that conform to the new groove rules conducted after that date. Similar to other equipment-related Conditions of Competition, the USGA would recommend that the Condition only apply to competitions involving expert players." (emphasis mine)

In its proposal, the USGA allows that "a Committee is authorized to waive the {new} specifications for applicable clubs manufactured prior to January 1, 2010." Now, here is the interesting continuation of this proposal. "It is recommended that the granting of this waiver be the normal practice (emphasis mine) for all competitions not involving expert players..."

So, they have proposed what amounts to a ruling that would set the stage for a clear separation of rules for the average golfer and the tour professional as early as January 1, 2009. Is this the way to go? That's the sixty four dollar question.

Status of Currently Conforming Clubs

Anytime there is a ruling involving equipment, the first question is "how does that effect the clubs that are in your bag at the time the rule change goes into effect?"

With this proposal, regarding clubs that currently conform to the Rules of Golf as written at the time of their manufacture, the USGA is proposing that they continue to be allowed to play for a period of "at least" ten years. So, with that grace period for your current wedges, and the probability that all but the highest lever competitions will apply this rule, you're apparently safe for a long time.

What this means to your game

So, what does all this mean to you? Actually, it's pretty clear. The PGA Tour professionals have been using wedges with precisely milled grooves for some time, and they're better because of it. But most manufacturers have not made this available to the rank and file amateur in their retail models. (EIDOLON has been CNC-milling our grooves to exact USGA tolerances since our very first one, thank you.) The USGA has scientifically determined that grooves of this precision do provide a significant benefit. Therefore, if you want to optimize your scoring, you should trash your old wedges with stamped or cast-in-place grooves and get some modern technology in your bag. Make a visit to a qualified clubfitter/crafter, and he can show you on the launch monitor how much spin you're not getting by missing out on the technology available to you today.
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[ comments ]
DeepRough says:
Great post Terry, gave me some great insight into this interesting issue.
Jam Boy says:
Congrats on the new blog. I love the layout and the in-depth posts thus far. I'll add you to my set of links straightaway. Best of luck to you.
pinggolfer73 says:
This ruling is a poor attempt at limiting the evolution of the game of golf. Lets just go back to hickory shafts while we're at it. What about modifying the dimples on a golf ball instead, to limit the benefits of spin altogether. Who is really pushing this rule change? What manufacturer would benefit from this the most? Maybe, instead of outlawing square grooves, we should design the rough to be more penalizing. There is another way to make hitting the fairway more of a premium. I see many lawsuits, probably led by PING and other cast club makers. Basically, I don't like this ruling, because square grooves benefit other shots that are not from the rough. Lets just take the game back to pre-modern game and lets see how TV ratings fall. Putt for Dough, drive for show.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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