The recent proposal by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to erase the disharmony on the matter of spring-like effect off the face of drivers pleased the ruling bodies, a number of manufacturers, and a great many golfers. Whether they favored .83, .86, or a reins-off approach, everyone agreed that the whole problem was an enormous distraction that needed to be settled quickly.
To recap: The ruling bodies proposed that so-called hot drivers that measure up to .86 coefficient of restitution be given a five-year grace period beginning Jan. 1, 2003. On Jan. 1, 2008, the whole world will back down to the current U.S. limit of .83, an effective distance of six yards on dead-center hits.
The significance is that instead of having a regulation just in the United States and Mexico, where the USGA rules the rules, the whole world will be subject to the same golf laws. The agreement, of which USGA executive director David Fay and R&A secretary Peter Dawson are so proud, arises from the R&As new willingness to have a regulation where they formerly saw no need for one.
Everyone concurs that Fay and Dawson worked hard on this solution for 18 months and followed the true spirit of negotiation: You give some to get some. Both men agreed that in an international game, uniformity is worth getting by doing some giving.
So why is Wally Uihlein unhappy?
Uihlein has not taken issue with the value of uniformity, or even the specific COR regulations. From his seat as chief executive of Acushnet, owner of the Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra and Pinnacle brands, another part of the May 9 proposal could have a significant impact on his market.
Part of the proposal suggests a Condition of Competition for tournaments involving highly skilled players. That condition would limit drivers to .83 COR, which is to say that for professional tournaments and top amateur events, drivers will stay where they are now. That provision, read in conjunction with a joint statement of USGA and R&A principles on equipment regulation, shows the ruling bodies concern about the distance modern golf clubs can drive modern golf balls when used by the worlds best players ' most of whom play on the major professional tours.
Titleists number one franchise is golf balls, of course. But its golf club business, which it has always positioned as complimentary to the ball business, concentrates on the better player, or the player who is trying to enter that rarified GHIN air.
Thats why the words that first jumped off the page at Uihlein on May 9 were highly skilled players.
Whats the size of the highly skilled player market? Uihlein asks. The way this announcement was received, with the major tours endorsing it within hours, it was generally thought that highly skilled players meant the professional tours.
If theres a distance problem, you need to go beyond the PGA Tour. How far down the pyramid do you go to enforce this? And how will state golf associations enforce the rule?
Fay has said that highly skilled players participate in tournaments down to the state level, where state, regional and local associations must enforce the rules.
Were putting that Condition of Competition into effect at the U.S. Open, Fay said, and at our meetings that week well talk about what to do with our other championships. As with the one-ball rule [which requires competitors to play with the same model of golf ball throughout a stipiulated round], we dont tell other golf associations what to do. But I think if you ask them, youll find they take their cue from us.
As for picking out the drivers that cant be played in tournaments, Fay says the USGA will now have to maintain two lists of the 62 drivers now considered nonconforming: One for clubs with a COR between .83 and .86, and another for .86 and above. If anyone showed up at a tournament with a club on either list and the suggested Condition of Competition were in effect, out of the bag it would come.
Uihlein sells clubs to the people who play in tournaments where the Condition could be in force, and to people who want to get good enough to play there. His concern is the inventory of 300,000 to 500,000 drivers at .83 and less (his estimate of all such clubs, not just his companys) in the market now as finished product, or on shelves as components waiting to be assembled.
Will the avid player, who supports the premium golf equipment industry, want to buy a .83 hot driver now, knowing that the Jan. 1, 2003 rule change essentially refrigerates his purchase as his foursome mates move up to .86? Will he pass up a .83 purchase and use his old .83 for tournaments, and buy a .86 to keep up with that foursome?
Rather than wait for the .86 period to begin, at least one manufacturer ' TaylorMade-adidas Golf ' has retooled to introduce its new 500 Series drivers at the .86 level this year.
All of a sudden, January first, these [.83] clubs are performance-inferior? Uihlein said. That could amount to a devaluation of this existing product by some $60 million to $80 million' because of possible lost sales or markdowns to move merchandise.
Uihlein, to whom due process and notice and comment are sacred parts of the process, wants to push the .86 starting date back a year, to Jan. 1, 2004. In his view, that would give ample time to run through the inventory of .83 drivers.
Fay, who is also a devotee of due process and the related concepts, endorses the current notice and comment period, which ends July 15. As for a possible effective date push-back:
We are not looking at this [proposal] as a rolling negotiation, Fay said.
As I said last week ' stay tuned.