Golf Business Stories That Will Define 2003

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The year is careening to a close. But before we take a look back at 2002 (that will be my next column), lets have a look at some of the stories that will linger ' and probably come to a head ' in 2003.
 
The Masters Controversy. Rely on it: Unless Augusta National Golf Club capitulates soon ' and thats as unlikely as moderate eating on Thanksgiving ' there will be a ruckus of some sort on Washington Road next April. Nothing will look unusual inside the gates, mind you. But like her or not, Martha Burk walks the walk. If she says there will be protests, there will be.
 
Whatever you believe about the issue ' that its a legal matter and that privacy rights should prevail, or that it transcends law and that morality demands the invitation of a woman to join ' the primary effect may be outside golf, and it wont be good.
 
Much of the general public still perceives American golf as an elitist game, long after the balance of public versus private clubs has shifted heavily toward the populist. Heck, many people still believe loud plaid pants are hallmark of the game.
 
The fact is, the facts rarely get in the way of gross perception in this over-speedy, media-driven world, and nuance doesnt matter at all. Right or wrong, all mainstream America will see is golf excluding people. Thats not what a stagnant game needs.
 
The U.S. Golf Association and Equipment. Whipsaw changes in rulings on spring-like effect off the face of drivers damaged any fragile credibility golfs co-ruling body had with manufacturers. In May, the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews reached a compromise that would have allowed so-called hot drivers (those with a coefficient of restitution of .86 or higher) to be used by recreational players for five years. Then, the whole world would return to the old limit, .83 COR.
 
But in August, amid reports that Japanese tournament authorities had complained to the R&A about expected enforcement problems, the seas changed. The ruling bodies admitted they never wanted a compromise anyway, so things went back to so-called normal: .83 for U.S. drivers, no limit in the R&As jurisdiction.
 
Trouble is, manufacturers were preparing to hit the ground running with hot drivers for the U.S. market the moment the 2003 Rose Bowl Parade started. A lot of marketing plans got thrown off, and a lot of anger got thrown around.
 
The ruling bodies see the matter as settled, and the manufacturers see that as a signal to watch out for golf ball regulation. Elder statesmen in the game on the level of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have said loudly and often that the modern ball is skewing the game.
 
The question is, will the Overall Distance Standard in the Rules of Golf, which is said to be under review, be changed? Can it be curtailed without provoking a hail of lawsuits? Or will the USGA simply raise it to a level it can live with and draw the line there? Legally, Option 2 only delays the inevitable. Either way, watch for possible pyrotechnics in 2003.
 
Golf Ball World War II. Now that Nike and Callaway have worked their way into the market, they feel ready to challenge Titleist for dominance. Even the attackers know theyre in for a long siege ' and its not clear yet whether or if they can overwhelm Fort Fairhaven ' so this is a story that will continue past next year.
 
But if Pro V1 has taught the industry anything, it is this: Word of mouth is still the best advertising, but the word comes first. A well-planned public relations campaign that attacks the mainstream can work wonders. Remember the Pro V1 on the front page of USA Today?
 
Nike has Tiger, Titleist has the market, Callaway has money and a new, aggressive tour strategy ' should be a blast.