USGA Makes Proposals on Grooves Adjustable Clubs

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USGAFAR HILLS, N.J. -- The United States Golf Association has introduced two proposals to change the Rules governing golf clubs. The first proposal would introduce new regulations for grooves. The second proposal calls for a relaxed standard concerning the adjustable features of woods and irons.
 
These proposals represent the comprehensive, deliberate and thoughtful nature of the USGAs equipment research. USGA Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge said. In one instance, were proposing new restrictions on groove configurations to maintain the element of skill at the games highest level. In the other case, were relaxing standards of adjustability because we believe these changes will benefit all golfers by allowing them to have a better chance to use clubs that can be fitted to their individual swing characteristics.
 
Proposal for New Groove Regulations
In March 2005, the USGA informed club manufacturers that it would conduct research on the topic of spin generation. Since that time, the USGA and its rulemaking partner, the R&A, have jointly conducted significant research into how groove designs affect spin and other performance characteristics. In August 2006, the USGA and the R&A sent a technical report summarizing the progress of their research to golf club manufacturers. The USGA and the R&A sent an additional research report to these same club manufacturers about this topic in January 2007.
 
The research findings clearly demonstrate that for shots struck by clubs from the rough with urethane covered balls (the type of ball used by most highly skilled players), modern square or U-shaped groove clubs result in higher ball spin rates and steeper ball landing angles than V-shaped groove designs that were predominantly used in the past. The combination of a higher spin rate and steeper landing angle results in better control and less difficulty for shots hit from the rough to putting greens. As this degree of difficulty for shots hit from the rough has decreased, the importance of driving accuracy on the PGA TOUR has lessened.
 
The skill of driving the ball accurately has become much less important in achieving success on TOUR than it used to be, Rugge said. Our analysis of statistical data measured by the PGA TOUR since 1980 shows that historically driving accuracy was as comparably correlated to winning as putting. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, driving accuracy became much less important. Today, the correlation between driving-accuracy rank and money winning rank on the PGA TOUR is very low.
 
Therefore, the USGA proposes to change the rules governing grooves. The objective of this change is to limit the performance of grooves on shots from the rough to that of the traditional V-groove design. While currently conforming clubs with V-shaped grooves would continue to conform under the proposed new rules, the changes do not mandate the use of a V-shape. Rather, they permit club designers to vary groove width, depth, spacing and shape to create clubs that conform to this proposed groove rule.
 
The proposal calls for two key additional groove specifications for clubs. One would call for groove edge sharpness to be limited to an effective minimum radius of .010 inches. The second would limit the total cross-sectional area of a groove divided by the groove pitch (width plus separation) to 0.0025 square inches per inch.
 
The changes in grooves required under the USGAs proposal would have very little effect on the performance of Surlyn balls favored by most golfers. More than two-thirds of golf balls sold in the U.S. are Surlyn covered. The impact of this proposal would be felt primarily by highly skilled players using urethane-covered balls.
 
The USGA proposes that these new groove rules become effective for all new clubs covered by this rule change that are manufactured after Jan. 1, 2010. A related Condition of Competition would be added to the USGA Rules of Golf to become effective Jan. 1, 2009. This Condition would allow a Committee to require the use of clubs that conform to the new groove rules for competitive events conducted after Jan. 1, 2009. Similar to other equipment-related Conditions of Competition, the USGA would recommend that the Condition apply only to competitions involving highly skilled players.
 
The USGA is considering how to treat clubs that currently conform to the Rules of Golf, but would not conform to the proposed new rules. This consideration would be made for the vast majority of golfers who would not likely be affected by the proposed Condition of Competition, as well as for golf clubs already in use and /or manufactured prior to the proposed rule implementation date. The USGA proposes to allow their use for a lengthy period of time (at least 10 years). As part of this Notice, the USGA requests opinions, comments, or any other type of helpful information from golfers, club professionals, manufacturers, retailers, golf organizations, and other interested parties regarding the future status of such golf clubs.
 
Written comments regarding these proposed changes governing grooves are welcomed and should be sent to the USGA, attention Dick Rugge, P.O. Box 708, Far Hills, NJ 07931, Fax 908-234-0138, e-mail: drugge@usga.org . Written comments received later than Aug. 1, 2007, will not be considered.
 
Proposal for Club Adjustability
In March of 2005, the USGA first indicated an interest in allowing more types of adjustable features on woods and irons. The Rules of Golf currently state that woods and irons must not be designed to be adjustable, except for weight. In making this proposal, the USGA considers relaxing certain aspects of its regulations by allowing more types of adjustable features to be used in woods and irons. The USGA believes these changes regarding adjustability can help many golfers obtain clubs that are well suited to their needs without causing any harm to the game. In accordance with past practices, no adjustments to clubs would be allowed during a stipulated round.
 
After we informed club manufacturers that we were looking into relaxing this rule, some of them told us that allowing more club adjustment would allow them to create new types of golf clubs that could help average golfers, Rugge said. The USGA believes that helping average golfers without taking away from the challenge of the game is a good thing for golf.
 
Rugge continued: PGA TOUR players have long had the opportunity to have their clubs adjusted or modified quickly and often. This has allowed them to fit their clubs to their swings as they feel the need to do so. By relaxing the rules to permit club adjustability, average golfers can enjoy similar fitting benefits.
 
The USGA proposes that the rule change to allow more adjustability of golf clubs, if adopted, would become effective Jan. 1, 2008.