For the USGA Time to Try Another Way


Americans do not like to be told what to do. The golf associations of some countries require that golfers be certified to play full-length courses. Applicants must show suitable ability and knowledge of golf etiquette. The idea is to keep things flowing on the course.
Try that here, and the hapless compliance officer would be picking turf out of his teeth for weeks.
Some outsiders see this insistent individualism, which has carried us from Bunker Hill to bunkers in Afghanistan, as obstinacy. Call it what you will: For better or worse, its us.
That axiom makes me wonder about the U.S. Golf Associations recent approach to the regulation of clubhead size and length. You may recall that golf manufacturers all but choked on their eggnog Dec. 19, when the USGA proposed to limit the size of clubheads to 385 cubic centimeters and the length of clubs to 47 inches. (Related query: What will Randy Johnson do? Quit the game?)
On Jan. 10, in response to manufacturer outcry (and some say threats), the USGA raised the proposed size limit to 460 cc, which should give enough design headroom to any serious manufacturer out there.
The USGAs announcement came while the controversy over spring-like effect off the face of drivers (coefficient of restitution) was still quite warm. It hasnt been that long since the USGA instituted a limit on such springiness, even though the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which administers golfs rules everywhere but the United States and Mexico, refused to do so. Callaway Golfs release of a purposely nonconforming club in October 2000 brought that debate to a boil.
The purpose of this column is not to say whether or not the USGA is correct (youre smart enough to have your own opinion), nor do I intend to join the chorus admonishing the USGA to hire public relations counsel (it should). What I want to do is propose a solution:
Capitalize on aspiration.
If the USGAs mission is indeed to protect and foster the game, then it stands to reason they should want more people to play it. The USGA knows as well as anyone else in golf that participation is flat, and that such flatness is a prelude to a drop-off. It knows that golf competes for American attention with many other leisure activities, most of which are cheaper and less time-consuming.
When Callaway introduced the nonconforming ERC, the late Ely Callaway started talking about two sets of rules: One for elite players, one for the recreational game. While he was right to insist that golf should be fun, I cant get comfortable with two sets of rules. A palpable but hard-to-define charm of golf is that anything good I do while playing it was done under the same rules Tiger Woods has to follow. The uniform rules are a way we touch greatness, however indirectly.
But American golfers, who spend freely on the game and devote much of their lives to it, chafe when told what to do. Rules? I had enough of those in school. I get enough of that at the office. If we roll em in the fairway, no one will be hurt. If I get 15 extra yards, we all have a better time.
Im not saying I agree, but the market will get what the market wants, or it will go elsewhere.
Cant the USGA consider changing its approach so that it welcomes into the game anyone who wants to whack around a golf ball, be it on a range or an executive course or a storied track? Get them in, get them hooked, get them spending, and then heres the important part make the game as played by the Rules of Golf something to aspire to.
Make it like sandlot baseball or soccer for kids. Sure, it may be tee ball or coach pitch or bumblebee for a whileah, but if you want to be like your heroes, you have to play this big fieldwith these rulesand these new challenges. But when you do ' just think how far you will have come, how much you will have accomplished.
You cant tell Americans what to do. But you can make them want to do what they should. No worthwhile mountain put before this populace has ever gone unclimbed.
So the solution is simple: Get them to play their way. Then make them want to play your way.