Golf's infamous b-word was raised again Wednesday by another equipment manufacturer. It's not surprising that bifurcation, the idea of separate rules for elite players and recreational players, is again being talked about by someone in the golf business. What might have been more than a little surprising was that the idea was raised by Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, a long-time critic of the idea.
Uihlein was responding to a question about the state of relations between golf's manufacturers and its rulemakers, the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, at a press conference introducing Gene Yoon, head of Fila Korea and the leader of the investor group that acquired Acushnet from Fortune Brands earlier this year. While he clearly did not openly endorse the idea, he did not dismiss it entirely.
"Obviously, there are issues about the growth of the game and people who think the rules are either too restraining or need to be bifurcated," he said. "That's a fairly open-ended question depending upon your viewpoint, and I can make an argument for or against bifurcating the rules."
A decade ago, while golf's manufacturers and golf's rulemakers waged war over spring-like effect in drivers, Uihlein made no such equivocation, telling the British magazine Golf Monthly:
"We have never supported the position of bifurcation. ...Bifurcation is only seriously advanced by those who think that the game is on some edge of ruination and thus as a result of their narrow and biased thinking feel some form of radical surgery is required."
Today, however, rather than rattling sabres, Uihlein says the tone has changed, improved. He believes the manufacturers are in a position to work with the ruling bodies more so today than in the past: "Compared to 20 years ago, where there was little dialog between the ruling bodies and the manufacturers, today it is 180 degrees improved."
"What's important to us," he said, "is to continue to let the ruling bodies make the rules. I really think we need to let the ruling bodies define the issues, and the manufacturers, in the spirit of those ruled upon, need to continue to provide the tension, which ensures that the dialog is healthy and progressive."
The game's future is not the manufacturers to control, he said. It's the business of the ruling bodies.
"They are ultimately going to have to assume a larger role in the game's perpetuation because if not, who fills that role?" he said.