USGA Pulls Zevo and Others Back from the Brink


The U.S. Golf Associations decision Jan. 10 to increase its proposed maximum clubhead size from 385 cubic centimeters to 460 cc wasnt exactly a last-minute call from the governor to the warden. But for some golf equipment companies, it felt that way.
USGA Amends its Stance on Clubhead Size
Im looking forward to a good nights sleep for the first time in weeks, said Michael Hoffee, president of Zevo Golf, within minutes of hearing the news Thursday afternoon. Zevos Compressor driver, which it plans to release at the PGA Merchandise Show, Jan. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla., has a head that displaces 410 cc.
That head would have run afoul of a regulation the USGA proposed Dec. 19, when the golf equipment industry was at its most quiet. Citing language from Appendix II(1)(a) of the Rules of Golf that requires club design to adhere generally to the traditional and customary form and make, the USGA surprised even the most wired-in industry observers by proposing that clubhead size be limited to 385 cc, and that the total length of the club be capped at 47 inches. (The Jan. 10 amendment does not change the length proposal.)
Even though the regulations were only proposed, many in the industry howled in protest. They saw the strictures as arbitrary and found the timing of the announcement suspect. The USGA offered a two-month comment period, but most manufacturers claimed they were too busy between Dec. 19 and Feb. 19 preparing for the PGA Show to adequately study the matter and comment. Zevo claimed to have lost a mass of orders that would have made it profitable.
The Jan. 10 modification pointed to the feedback the USGA had received as the reason for the change. Not only will 460 cc offer plenty of design headroom for most companies, said the USGA, but another 10 cc will be allowed as a margin for manufacturing or measuring error. The number is not arbitrary, but was chosen because the USGA has already approved some clubs that big, said Dick Rugge, USGA senior technical director. (Even if there had been no modification, previously approved clubs presumably would have been grandfathered in had the proposed regulation been adopted.)
Word from inside the USGA is that reaction ran the gamut from the aforementioned howling to calmer suggestions. But at least two companies, Zevo and Acushnet, sent letters with ultimatums and deadlines: Modify 385 or well sue. (Acushnets Cobra Golf has a 427 cc driver on the way.) The USGA says it was the totality of the response, not the threats, that led to the change.
The process shows that the USGA listens, Rugge said Jan. 11. Were not an organization that closes our ears or our minds.
That endorsement of the process pervades the USGA front office.
There are so many golf manufacturers in the universe now that if you try speaking [informally about regulation] to just a few, you run a real risk [of antitrust lawsuits], said David Fay, the USGAs executive director.
At Zevo headquarters in Temecula, Calif., Hoffee is glad to be back to business as usual. He believes hell recover all the orders lost because of retailer fear over the Dec. 19 proposal. But the experience left scars.
[The Dec. 19 announcement] did cost us, in a sort of less tangible way, by interrupting our business at a crucial launch time, Hoffee said Jan. 11. Instead of paying attention to product issues, we were busy meeting with counsel and preparing a response.
The USGA hopes the Jan. 10 modification will put the proposed club regulation issue to rest. Almost lost in all the club-related hoopla is the other Dec. 19 announcement, the one in which the USGA agreed that its proposed golf ball testing procedure, called optimization, in which the ball is launched from a machine under ideal launch conditions, wasnt the way to go. In response to manufacturer comment (and sometimes outrage), the USGA will incorporate a set of standards called Actual Launch Conditions into the process, including testing by a machine that hits the ball with a golf club.
The lack of kudos for that position may have to do with the fundamental fact that most manufacturers dont want the Overall Distance Standard for golf balls to change from its 1976 level. They say the USGA hasnt demonstrated a need.
But the USGA is unconcerned about the lack of praise.
Perhaps because of our role as a quasi-regulatory body, it goes with the territory, Fay said. People arent going to stand up and salute us.
Hoffees takeaway lesson is that manufacturers should work as a committee with the USGA, with longer lead times for proposals.
In this way, the USGA will have some forward-seeing information in evaluating rules and we as manufacturers can avoid repeating this type of exigency, Hoffee said.
Providing it could be done without antitrust problems ' who knows? Perhaps conflict will yield future concord. Or at least no need for calls from the governor.