My Response to the USGA Proposed Rule on Grooves
USGA LogoLast week I sent the USGA my response on its proposal to alter the rules governing the dimensions of grooves on wedges. While the exact letter to Dick Rugge, Technical Director for the USGA, is a personal and private correspondence, I want to share with you my thoughts on this subject which I made clear to this governing body.

First let me state that the USGA has a thankless job, charged as it is to protect the game of golf from being changed too dramatically by the evolution/revolution in equipment technology.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to equipment, and have always supported the USGA’s efforts to serve as a watchdog for the long-term good of golf.  I don’t envy that job one little bit.

This subject of a roll-back on grooves was addressed in my post of March 2 and a follow-up on April 25.  If this topic interests you, and it should, you might want to read those posts before you go further in this one.

Very simply, this ruling is an attempt by the USGA to bring some sanity and control to the unbelievable skills the top level golfers are exhibiting in the modern era. They have reduced the game to blast it off the tee, gouge it from the rough and putt, and they are antiquating golf courses – we can’t make them all 8,000 yards long for PGA Tour players.

USGA research proves the modern tour player spins the ball better from the rough with an 8-iron than the 25-year-ago professional did from the fairway with a wedge !

Accordingly, there is little or no correlation between the top money earners and those that can hit fairways. The USGA sees that as a threat to the game, and I really cannot disagree.

But because the USGA cannot force special rules upon the PGA Tour, this is really a rule designed mainly to affect play by that small group of millionaires . . . but it will have a negative effect on the rest of us.

Most courses today have faster and firmer greens, tougher greenside trouble, deeper bunkers, etc., so getting up and down is much more difficult for the average amateur than it was 20 years ago.

Making conforming wedges the way we do at EIDOLON helps golfers cope with these changes in course design, construction and agronomy. In other words, as courses have changed to contend with modern technology in drivers and balls, wedges have changed to contend with the modern courses.

Average golfers, and even the best amateurs, aren’t making a mockery of their courses like tour players do, but with today’s conforming grooves we can help them have a chance to hit shots that can stay on a green and give them an opportunity to make par or bogey.

Long drivers, hot golf balls and the other technology still really haven’t lowered handicaps, but good modern wedges can. If we all want the game to grow, we need to address the real reason people quit – because they don’t get better !

What troubles me most about this proposed ruling, however, is that it is the first time I’ve ever seen the USGA propose a rule, and within the rule itself actually recommend that it be broken most of the time.

Isn’t that a terrible precedent to get into ?  They are actually recommending that golf professionals and tournament directors waive this rule for all but the most elite tournaments for “expert golfers”, and for golfers to break this rule on a daily basis.

If the USGA begins to write rules that include a recommendation that they usually be broken, doesn’t that minimize the sanctity of all the rules ?

That, to me, is the most critical part of this equation. And I don’t see how they can make any rule change that affects a rollback on technology and come out a winner.

The big money will declare war on the USGA, and it can’t win. If the USGA loses, golf loses . . . and if golf loses, we all lose.

If the game is in danger from the dramatic improvement of the PGA Tour player – which I think it isn’t – then the USGA must use its power of persuasion to influence the PGA Tour to do something about it.

But to take away a true scoring tool from the average golfer because 150 multi-millionaire professionals have widened the gap between themselves and the rest of us, I say that’s not the USGA’s problem.

This subject is going to be in all the golf publications in the weeks ahead, and the new ruling will either be passed or re-proposed. It affects us all so I strongly suggest you pay attention.

Thanks for the time and interest.
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[ comments ]
Rick says:
What is the definition of "highly skilled," and will this be fixed or vary by individual interpretation from one event to another? Will there be a list of club models that are disqualified? Lots of questions remain...

Looks like potential for industry sales jspike before 12/31/07.

Sure seems easy enough for PGA to fix this in tournaments by growing punitive rough. You're right to be concerned for average golfer.
iacas says:
I'm personally okay with it and I think it's a reasonable solution.

I think most average golfers don't make good contact often enough or generate enough swing speed to benefit much from modern grooves. They're also likely playing non-urethane type balls.

The single digit handicappers will find a way to adapt, just as we did 7 years ago when we first moved to urethane balls with solid cores and still had "older" grooves. So we plan for a little run-out on shots and we try a little harder to hit fairways, perhaps by throttling back a bit with the driver. So be it.

I support the proposed change.
Mike says:
I personally think the PGA Tour, the USGA and the common golfer are three different types, classes and skill levels.

The average club golfer is no threat to the game and his equipment needs no tweaks or limitations. What he needs is help and education, equipment wise.

The USGA, as Guardians for the Game, can set parameters for "their events" as they see fit.

I have no desire to play in their events anyway.

I like to fish, but don't want to fish with the FLW guys, under their rules and regulations.

I want to enjoy my fishing.

The PGA Tour, with all of their local rules, doesn't play the same game, under the same conditions as I do anyway, so they and I are as different as the 2007 Camry I drive and the one NASCAR teams use.
wedgeguy says:
I was thinking this would generate more comments from all of you, because this is a ruling that we know will effect every amateur golfer's scoring around the greens. As for "expert players", the USGA isn't defining that. I take it to mean that they are hoping the PGA Tour and other professionals circuits will apply this new rule, and they would apply it to the USGA championships, but recommend that all "normal" events waive the rule. What a mess!!??

The other thing that stands out to me in the USGA testing is that they are always using professional golfers off of developmental tours to do their testing. Since that skill level represents about 1,000 of America's 25 million golfers, why don't they see what the results are from average amateurs? I think it would be eye-opening. I can't think of a singler amateur player I know that makes a mockery of the rougth the way the tour guys do.
iacas says:
They don't always test only players from the developmental tours.

I quote, from the second groove study published in January of this year.

"The launch conditions of fifteen different amateur golfers with handicap indices that were uniformly distributed over a range from 1.9 to 19.8 were measured. Like the tour player testing, the launch conditions of the golfers were measured using a radar system as the golfers hit shots using different club lofts of U-groove and V-groove clubs from light rough."
Courtney says:
I realize this is a bit late, but what is missing from the article and the comments is this:

With the roll back in groove technology to the older style grooves that do not have as much bite, players, especially Tour players, will have to rely more on the ball for spin rate. Ball manufacturers will have no problem adjusting their balls to spin more to fit the demands of the Tour. As with anything that changes on Tour, the public soon follows - and we will always need new balls.

Since the ball will spin more, players will drop back down on driver loft to get the distance they want - but the extra spin and lower loft will also cause the ball to turn more - bringing shot makers back into the game instead of just the pounders.

More spin will also roll back yardages. Courses won't have to be 7600 yards to be considered long. The 6900 yard course will be playable again even on Tour.

I like the idea of changing the grooves.
Jeffrey Chew says:
I know that there is a measurable effect from the grooves on a club face, but isn't the real difference in scoring on the tour from the balls. The fact that they now have a ball that flies further AND spins like a balata helps them considerably more than any single or combination of club technology(s).

The USGA has spent too much time focusing on the club and not enough on the ball. Roll the ball tach back a few years and you will see "these guys..." not as good.
wedgeguy says:
This is all great comment. Jeffrey makes a good point about the ball. The industry and professionals will respond to whatever happens. But I don't see any rollback or other reversing directions on the ball. It will remain to be seen what all this means for us amateur golfers, and only time will tell. My biggest frustration and disappointment with this wedge ruling is -- to repeat -- that the USGA is writing a rule and then recommending that most of us not play by it. Besides making it tough for us manufacturers to figure out what to make, my personal fear is that this could lead to a breakdown in usefulness of USGA Rules for non-tour golf.
Courtney says:
Jeffrey - it takes both the ball and the club face/grooves to affect spin. When the groove rule goes into effect, the pros will want a ball that spins more in order to get the control on the green they want. (yes - the testing starts at the top with the pros - am's will do what we always do and run right out to get whatever the pros are playing)

Terry - I'm not exactly sure what you mean by the USGA telling most of us to not play by the rule. The only thing I see along those lines is the grandfather rule, allowing players to use whatever they have in the bag when the rules take affect. Some of the pros will stockpile wedges they like to push the spirit of the rule to the limit, but most of these guys won't be on Tour more than 10-15 more years. Plus, a pro will wear out several wedges in a season, so they will go through their supply fairly quickly. Then manufacturers will push the players to use their newer clubs and use contract money to convince them. The ball manufacturers will make the needed adjustment in spin technology to fit the Tour players and that will filter down the ladder to the every day player - most of whom do not get the most out of their equipment to begin with - but the PROS use it.
wedgeguy says:
Courtney, that is a good question. Here's what I was referring to. With regard to the new groove rule, in the Conditions of Competition, "the USGA would recommend that the Condition apply only to competitions involving expert players.". In other words, they are recommending that this rule be waived for most local/regional events. Puzzling, to say the least. Additionally, they are proposing to allow prior-manufactured wedges to be allowed for at least 1 years, meaning that wedges manufactured prior to 1/1/2010 would be superior in spin generation to newer product. Also strange. It will be a couple of months before we see the final ruling on this, but it's worth watching for sure.
Courtney says:
Isn't it amazing how difficult technology that is designed to make our lives easier, can make things ?

I seriously doubt (hope ?) that the USGA will use a little common sense on this issue. An umbrella organization like the USGA or R&A can't start making rules for the pro's (who they have no real control over in the first place) and the rest of us.

Just make the rule as simple as possible. If they have to use a grandfather clause - which seems a bit ridiculous (are you telling me the best players in the world can't adjust to new they already do all the time ??) - then make the time period as short as possible - no more than one season.

USGA - don't leave us shaking our heads over a decision like this. Make the rule and let things shake out like they always do - in the market place.
Jeffrey Chew says:
Courtney - I understand that the club face and the ball are needed in order to make spin, and I also realize that there are some new manufacturing processes that allow a wedge to generate more spin on the ball.

What I was referring to was, as Terry and you also pointed out in response, the fact that spin rates are higher now mostly because of the ball. Pro's can hit out of the deep rough and still hold the green more because of the advancement in ball technology than club technology.

So what I wanted to say was, instead of always focusing on the club the USGA and R & A should look to the ball if they want to reduce scoring, distance etc.
Courtney says:
Ok - quick history refresher. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, Ping introduced clubs with square grooves - caused a real stink because all of a sudden, the pros were getting spin from places they never had before. Players not using the Ping clubs cried foul and the USGA tried to outlaw the square grooves. Ping fired back with a lawsuit and the USGA eventually backed down.

With the square grooves legalized, the ball companies could work on taking the spin out of the ball - how long has it been since you've seen a wound ball with red or black numbers for compression ? Remember the Molitor ball ? Flew for miles, but hard as a rock. BUT - a square groove club could add enough spin and control to make the ball behave on the greens.

Fast forward a few years - solid core balls and multi-layer covers are the entire market - dimple technology requires a rocket scientist to explain. Driver heads the size of a 2 car garage are the norm with shaft technology to customize ball flight.

Wedges now have grooves that are computer designed to be as razor sharp as possible to bite into the newer balls and add spin from the most unforgiving rough...for the very best players at least. The rest of us get some of the benefit, but we don't have the clubhead speed or solid contact that the pros and best amateurs have.

It comes down to this, Jerry - Take away the sharp grooves - roll all the way back to the U-grooves - and the modern ball will not have the spin from the rough that the pros depend on so much from the rough.

Without the extra spin from the grooves - players will have to either keep the ball in the fairway by learning to control their swings better (yeah right) - OR - the ball manufacturers will design new balls with more spin.

A ball that spins more will not fly as far, will tend to go farther off line if not struck correctly - which will also force players to pull back on the power, making shorter courses play longer.

You will never get every manufacturer to make a single, uniform ball. What you can get them to do is change the grooves, which will cause a change in balls followed by lower driver lofts.

If you change the groove technology, you eventually solve all kinds of problems. Players will have to throttle back off the tees because they won't be able to just bomb it down range and hack a wedge and still be able to back the ball up. Balls will change, adding spin, effectively shortening the distance a ball can travel. It's all in the physics of aerodynamics.

You are right - the ball does need to change - but there are several changes that need to happen to fix the problems that have built up over the last 2 decades - and if you pick the right one, the market will fix the others.
Courtney says:
OH ! forgot one other benefit - ball striking and working the ball will come back in style.

This may tick off some of the young guns who think that most golf courses can be played with 3 clubs - driver - wedge - and putter, but I would love to see more Corey Pavin type talent out there.
Jeffrey Chew says:
fair enough, point well made.
Ron C Clair says:
The so-called "advances" in technology - self-correcting golf balls- shaft technology - grooves ad nauseum (sic) has taken way too much of the skill out of the game - I realize that the average Joe wants more birdies, more length, etc BUT it seems to me that something similar has happened to golf that happened to pole vaulting... it became catapulting vis a vis fiberglass!
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