Purpose and Timing
Since the Golf Channel first went on the air in 1995, I have appeared on Golf Talk Live on the first Monday of the New Year. I appeared again this year on January 8, 2001.
Ever since the furor erupted in Mid-October concerning Callaway's decision to sell the non-conforming ERC II driver in the United States, I have considered when and how would be the best way for me, first, to respond to the questions that have arisen concerning my position on the ERC II and, second, to set the record straight on some of the charges and allegations which have been directed at me (some surprisingly intemperate) and which have simply no basis in fact. I decided that the best time and place to do this was on Golf Talk Live. The purpose of this statement is to expand on certain of the matters I discussed on the show.
In its simplest terms, I approve the use of the ERC II in recreational play. I have made in quite clear that I do not believe it appropriate to use the club in any tournament or event sanctioned by the USGA or in any Club event where local Club rules prohibit it. In play other than events, it is my view that the use of the ERC II adds to the enjoyment of the game and is in no way detrimental to it. In this latter regard my position is consistent with the position of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A), taken at its meeting on September 20, 2000. I will have more to say later on the R&A's position. My position is, of course, contrary to the stated opinion of the USGA. In this respect, let me repeat again my respect for the USGA and the good work that it has done for so many years to advance the game. I have long been its principal spokesman and I have done so enthusiastically. On this issue, I simply disagree with the USGA's stated position that the ERC II is a threat to the game, though I respect totally the sincerity of that position.
It has been said that I have played more rounds of golf with mid to high handicap golfers than any golf professional in history. I suspect this is true. Over the years I have played in thousands of pro-ams, competed in the Bay Hill Shoot Out with amateurs of all skill levels two or three times a week for many years, and have played in countless outings with my corporate sponsors, such as Pennzoil, Cooper Tire, and Verizon, and their customers.
From this exposure to so many golfers of all skill levels over such a long period of time, it is to me an incontestable fact that there are two quite different games of golf being played in the United States and, for that matter, throughout the world. In this regard it is important to note that research shows only 14% of U.S. golfers shoot 85 or below, 44% shoot between 85 and 100, and 42% shoot over 100! Among most amateur golfers, particularly those who shoot 90 or above, it is common practice to avoid stringent enforcement of the rules in the interest of making the game more enjoyable to play. Mulligans, 'hit `til you're happy', 'gimme' putts, preferred lies, and ignoring the stroke-and-distance rule are common everyday practices at municipal courses and, indeed, at most country clubs everywhere. I view the use of the ERC II in recreational play as no different than any of these other infractions of the rules that are routinely accepted in recreational play. Indeed, it seems to me that it is less objectionable inasmuch as it simply gives a player a chance to drive the ball farther and doesn't necessarily guarantee a lower score on the hole. The player still must get the ball to the green and into the hole. On the other hand, mulligans and gimmes are, by their very nature, stroke savers.
It is useful and important to remind ourselves of the genesis of the concern that the golf ball is traveling too far. Professional golfers were reaching such prodigious lengths that there was a growing concern that many historically great tournament golf courses could become obsolete. This is a legitimate concern, but its relevance to the use of a non-conforming driver by any golfer is remote at best. First of all, if there is any problem with extra distance off the tee, it relates to professional golfers only. Secondly, the lengths which these professional players are hitting the ball is not confined to the driver, but applies to all other clubs in the bags as well.
And, finally, there are other reasons for this increased length beyond technological improvements in clubs. Principal among these are the technology of the golf ball and the superb physical condition of today's professional golfers and today's courses. The bottom line on this is that there are very, very few, if any, amateur players who pose any serious threat to the obsolescence of any golf course anywhere.
I'm not sure I agree that two sets of rules is the answer, but, if moving to more than one set of rules is grounded in common sense and contributes to the growth and popularity of the game, why should we not at least consider it? Jim McLean, the highly respected teacher, has made this point very clear in a recent letter of Golf Week. His letter states:
|'I have read with interest your editorials on Arnold Palmer, the USGA and the Rules of Golf.|
To me, and many others, it is clear that we need two sets of rules. It is very obvious. The golf companies have run over the USGA. The public loves new high-tech equipment. High-tech helps better players more than poor players.
The average golfer plays the much more difficult modern golf courses, especially when they travel. They need help.
The professional golfers with new equipment demolish any course. Our great old courses are a joke with modern equipment for the new breed of golfers.
Why not make the simple choice of professional and non-professional rules?
Let the public get the super high-tech equipment, but protect the integrity of the game by limiting professionals. Then Winged Foot, Bay Hill, Doral, Pebble Beach, and other great courses would present a major challenge to everyone.
If it comes down to Palmer or the USGA with the public, it's all over. The King wins hands down. Palmer always has put the integrity of the game No. 1. The USGA has not come up with innovative concepts, have not opened USGA offices in other areas of America and have not really controlled the distance issue. The game has been changed by great innovations from manufacturers, but the rules have not kept pace. I believe we definitely need two sets of rules. The USGA should be leading with this idea or something better. They should not be reactive, sitting back and waiting to respond.'
I have already mentioned the recently announced position of the R&A.
The Royal & Ancient's ruling, of course, permits the use of clubs like the ERC II not only in recreational play, but in R&A-sanctioned events and tournament play as well. As a result, this is the prevailing rule everywhere except in North America. In a recent interview Peter Dawson, the R&A secretary, was quoted as follows:
'Our view is that the golf ball is being hit farther.' Says Dawson. 'But not just because of these new drivers. There's more to it. People are physically stronger. They practice more. Conditioning of courses is better. Coaching is better. So this so-called `spring-like effect' - I prefer to call it a more efficient impact - is a very small element of this. We just don't feel it is worth getting excited about.
Think about it. These fellows are out there hitting 6-irons 200 yards. So it isn't just the driver. Stories about guys hitting the ball 3- yards longer are nonsense. These clubs are not detrimental to the game - which is not to say that we are not concerned about the distance the ball is going. We just think this issue isn't the one to take on.' (emphasis added)
Let me quote a few sentences from the R&A's formal ruling on the matter issued on September 20, 2000.
'This rule will continue to be interpreted, as it has been since 1984, without any specific instructions on the club head's dimensions or its Coefficient of Restitution. The R&A's Implements and Balls Committee has been studying this issue for two years . The Implements and Balls Committee has studied the research team's findings, including an assessment of the effect of possible further developments in club head design and construction, and the results of field tests. It has been decided after long and careful consideration that additional regulation in the form of a test procedure is not required at present. Based on the data currently, available to the R&A, it has been decided that the enhanced performance (increased driving distances) that can be achieved by using certain drivers studied by the R&A is not , by itself, a significant threat to the integrity of the game . We believe that the decision is fair and reasonable, and that is serves the best long term interest of the game.' (emphasis added)
It is impossible to over emphasize the importance (and the reasoning behind) the R&A's positions. The considered judgment of the world's oldest rulemaking body is entitled to great defense. The complete text of the R&A's official Ruling is attached to this statement.
There is another very interesting precedent, which I find quite significant. In 1922 the USGA voted to ban the steel shafts that had appeared a few years earlier on the grounds that they would make the game far easier to play. The Western Golf Association, which had authorized their use upon their introduction, undertook performance tests using both hickory and steel shafts. The Western Golf Association reviewed the matter and decided that no change was necessary. Players could keep using steel shafts in WGA Championships - a position at odds with the USGA. Interestingly, in 1925 the USGA eventually arrived at the same viewpoint. The importance of this bit of history is obvious and the parallels are important. The USGA banned equipment, believing it would be a threat to the game by making it easier to play. The WGA disagreed with the USGA and sanctioned the use of steel shafts by its members. So far as history records, members of the WGA were not branded as 'cheaters' and the legitimacy of WGA's position was later established.
Why This Is Important
At the heart of my position is my genuine concern for the growth of the game. One recent study has shown that, although there are 28 million current golfers, there are over 40 million former golfers. It is critical that we do everything reasonably possible to make the game more enjoyable and more 'user friendly' for junior, women, and senior golfers. I am told that at the recent Golf 20/20 conference at the World Golf Village, the need to 'make golf more fun' was repeatedly stressed. We must attract and retain golfers of all ages, gender, and skill levels, and I believe that the use of the ERC II in recreational play will contribute to that result.
In all of this I have been disappointed that we have thus far not seen any willingness to engage in a thoughtful dialogue on these important issues.
As stated in a recent Golf Digest article:
|'Is it really in your interest for the USGA to restrict clubface technology because it has lengthened the game of the best players? Part of the trouble with questions like these is that there's no overarching forum in which to resolve them. Nor is there real consensus, or even a way to obtain consensus, over whether the titanium length of the game is good or bad. We know just how much farther the pros are hitting the ball than they were 20 years ago because every week they play a game of tape-measure. The evidence for the rest of us is almost purely anecdotal, and you know what golf anecdotes are worth. In all of this, there is the persistent oddity that the USGA is legislating only the length of the very best players on Earth, whose average tournament scores, despite titanium drivers, haven't changed in years. The rest of us aren't in danger of hitting the glass horizon -- no matter what driver we use.' (emphasis added)|
It has been (and remains) my hope that my views on these subjects can act as a catalyst to promote the kind of reasoned dialogue that I believe is so important. As Bob Verdi said in a recent article in Golf World: 'If anyone can achieve an out-of-court consensus among golf's factions, perhaps it is a 70-something icon who retains visibility and credibility because he is from generations then and now. If a hot driver that Tiger can't use draws thousands of golf because they can use it, is that bad? Or is it progress?'
Personal Comments and Comments of Others
I have been surprised and, frankly, offended and hurt by the ugliness of some of the reactions to my views. After having devoted much of my life to the growth of the game and being credited with having an important impact on its popularity (especially on the so-called 'average guy'), I have now been labeled by some of the 'cheater' and 'turncoat', and of 'selling out'.
It is awkward for me to respond to such charges without sounding defensive and self-serving. Perhaps a few comments from others will help set the record straight.
'Palmer has always put the integrity of the game No. 1.'
Jim McLean Golf School
'Arnie is not a person who sells out. That's a contradiction in terms. I don't see a conflict with his representing the USGA. I expect him to work on our behalf and I certainly hope that he will. I know Arnold is for what he truly believes.'
United States Golf Association
'In the big picture, Palmer's comments are consistent with who he is. As much as he has been an advocate for the USGA, Palmer's most important place in history is as a popularizer who has brought the game to the masses. Now he is promoting a club aimed at them.'
Sports Illustrated Columnist
'(Reacting to criticism) Palmer didn't change his stance. That shouldn't be a surprise. After all, Arnold Palmer single-handedly took golf from the aristocracy to the masses. A blue-collar golfer who played the game much like most amateurs did - unpredictably. Nobody could identify with the public more than Palmer, who loves to tinker with clubs and invariably has 20 or more clubs in his bag during casual rounds in the quest for improvement.'
'He's like every other golfer trying to get a little longer and a little bit better, trying to get that little extra edge.'
PGA Tour Professional
'Indeed, an argument can be made that Palmer will be remembered more as someone who popularized the game and introduced it to the masses, so why not promote a club that makes it easier for the weekend hackers to play it?'
Palm Beach Post
'I think there should be a limit on the speed of the ball. What I've found with drivers is, yeah, it's a trampoline effect that may make the ball go farther, but give the amateur a break. I agree with Arnold Palmer.'
PGA Tour Professional
'In the past I've heard players advocate changing certain rules, such as repairing spike marks on greens, being able to place balls instead of dropping them if they hit into casual water and bunkers, or unifying the situations which allow drops one club length away and two club lengths away. When those players have gone on record about their disagreements about some rules, there hasn't been a great hue and cry that they're saying cheating is all right. All Arnie is doing is in effect taking issue with the USGA rules on equipment. A player who thinks spike marks should be repaired isn't going to start doing it in competition, nor should anyone else. But on a Saturday afternoon, at a municipal course, among friends? Under those conditions, the King thinks it shouldn't be a crime against humanity to use a club that might produce the one shot that `keeps you coming back' and that doesn't justify calling an icon a turncoat.'
Jacksonville (FL) Times Union
Relationship with Callaway
One of the most troublesome misstatements of fact in this entire matter (because it impugns my integrity) is that I 'sold' the Arnold Palmer Golf Company to Callaway and 'in return' agreed to endorse the ERC II driver. It has further been stated that part of the arrangement called for Callaway to 'relieve Palmer from personal financial loss in the failure of the golf equipment firm that carried his name.' This charge is simply untrue. First of all, it was not 'my' golf company. It was a publicly held company and had been for many years.
Second, it was not 'sold' to Callaway. The Company was principally owned by my good friend, Jack Lupton, who invested a substantial amount of money in the Company and supported its operations for a number of years. Jack's stake in the Company was significantly greater than mine. After taking the company private in September 1999, we made a thorough and detailed study of the options available to the company in the future. Ultimately, a decision was made to liquidate the company. Everyone involved concluded, though reluctantly, that the prospects for a small equipment company in the increasingly competitive golf industry were not promising. After talking with several prospects, including Callaway, we determined that a sale of the Company as a whole was not feasible. Instead, the various pieces of the Company were sold to different buyers. The Nancy Lopez golf club line and the related endorsements rights for Nancy were sold to the Square 2 Company. Another company took over the HotZ bag division. The Company did not find a buyer for the Palmer club brand and, therefore, it was simply discontinued. The Arnold Palmer Golf Company owned the rights to my name and sold these rights to Callaway. The proceeds from all of these sales went to the Arnold Palmer Golf Company in which, as I have noted, I was a minority shareholder. Neither Jack Lupton nor I will receive proceeds from the liquidation of the Arnold Palmer Golf Company. That will even begin to make either of us whole on our investment.
In a separate transaction, I entered into an endorsement agreement with Callaway for their clubs and balls. It is a standard endorsement agreement in all respects. I did not agree, as part of this arrangement, to endorse the ERC II driver. I agree instead, as I have repeatedly said, to state that I approved of its use in leisure, recreational golf and intended from time to time to use it myself under such conditions.
The Handicap Issue
For many, many years' golfers have been establishing handicaps based upon scores achieved in recreational rounds of golf where the Rules of Golf have not been strictly followed. Some of these routinely tolerated infractions of the Rules are explicitly acknowledged by the USGA in its Handicap System Manual - including the acceptability of mulligans and the use of electronic measuring devices (rangefinders). Others are implicitly acknowledged by custom and practice - including the common practice of many recreational golfers to carry more than fourteen clubs or the failure to always take both stroke and distance penalties in those situations where the Rules require. To say that the handicap system has always required that all posted rounds be played in accordance with the Rules of Golf is simply not true.
The goal of the handicap system has always been to have golfers post as many scores as possible, with much less concern about the posting of low scores ('vanity handicaps') than for the failure to post high scores ('sandbagging'). In this spirit, and consistent with the common practice among recreational golfers in the United States today, I think that golfers should be permitted - indeed, required - to post scores achieved in recreational rounds even if they use a non-conforming driver. Instead of excluding these golfers from full participation in the game, I think they should be included. If their scores with these drivers improve, then their lower handicaps will simply work to the benefit of those who play against them, with no harm to anyone or to the game itself.
I end where I began; I approve of the ERC II for recreational/leisure play. I do not do this for money or for any reason other than my lifelong interest and love of the game. At a time when the game is not growing, when there are more former golfers than active golfers, it seems clear to me that everyone who loves the game and wants to see it grow must support reasonable efforts to make the game more enjoyable, more fun. Frank Beard, in a recent article in Senior Golfer said it very well:
|'The reality is that the percentage of people playing competitive golf is minuscule. Of the 25+ million golfers in the United States, more than 24 million of us just want to have fun and see how far we can hit a ball off the tee. So, when our governing bodies have the power to limit how far we hit the ball, we've got to take a serious look at the issue. I'm not convinced that regulating equipment for distance control is important to the future of recreational golf.|
The fundamental problem with our game is that it's very technical and extremely difficult. The average player doesn't have the time or the resources to become a good or great player. If we could all take lessons and practice every day, then our fun would probably come from improving our game. The reality is that we don't practice and we don't improve. So, if buying a club helps you enjoy the game, why shouldn't you be able to buy it?'
Complete text of Frank Beard's article