Rugge, 64, announced Monday that he would be retiring from his post after nearly 13 years, effective February 2, 2013.
Since taking the job in May 2000 after leaving TaylorMade Golf,
Rugge guided the equipment rulemaking process through changes that
ranged from restrictions on clubhead size to a new portable test to
determine conformance to the spring-like effect rule. He oversaw the
development of a modernized test for the overall distance standard for
golf balls, as well as put in place a relaxed set of guidelines covering
Rugge, who also did much during his tenure to improve the communication
between golf's ruling bodies as well as the interaction between
rulemakers and golf's manufacturers, largely will be remembered for his
work in two specific areas of the rules, one which led to a change and
one that, at least for the moment, hasn't. First, he reopened the debate
over whether more aggressive grooves on wedges and irons were having an
undue effect on spin, a bold move toward a reversal from the stance
golf's ruling bodies took nearly two decades earlier and which resulted
in lawsuits that threatened the USGA's very existence. After nearly
three years of research and debate with the industry, Rugge and his team
provided the framework of research that led to a rule putting new
limits on the size, shape and sharpness of grooves on wedges and irons.
He also spearheaded a long-term research project on golf balls that fly
15-25 yards shorter than current balls. That latter project is still
ongoing with no specific timetable for a release of the research or a
proposed rule change.
In a letter to staff
announcing Rugge's retirement, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis
praised his colleague's role during an era of perhaps the most rapid
innovation in the game's history.
"His vigilance has assured that skill remains the most important factor in hitting a good shot," the letter reads.
will leave behind a Research and Test Center team that is extremely
well positioned to handle its mission moving forward. His contributions
to the USGA have been invaluable, and I would like to sincerely thank
him for his significant role in helping us govern the game."
became the USGA's technology czar at a time when the USGA and
manufacturers were barely on speaking terms, at the height of a
difference of opinion over non-conforming drivers and the implementation
of a complicated test for the then recently established spring-like
effect rule. Rugge saw reopening those lines of communication to be a
crucial part of his job, stating as much when he was hired: "I still
have the mission to protect the game of golf, but to do so, hopefully,
in a way that is palatable to everybody."
little doubt that he has attempted to do much in that area. Many of the
decisions he orchestrated offered compromise. For example, at the same
time new restrictions were put in place to roll back the effectiveness
of grooves, the USGA also expanded the rules governing adjustability.
That was not a coincidence.
"Both proposals are
aimed at the average golfer," Rugge said at the time. "On one hand, it
minimizes the effect of the average golfer with grooves, and in the
other case it maximizes the impact on average golfers with the
adjustability proposal. We'd like to always do that, but we may not
always be able to. I can't predict the future. But it is certainly
preferable to have things that have less effect on the average golfer."
sought to communicate even when it meant taking the heat directly. In
one instance, he specifically made a point of meeting with Phil
Mickelson at the Barclay's Championship after Mickelson was openly
critical of the proposed groove rule. He told Golfweek, "I wanted to
talk to Phil and give him a chance to let me have it. I thought it was
appropriate to give him a chance to vent."
and other naysayers suggest that the groove rule was more inconvenience
than effective, that it hasn't had any effect on controlling distance,
nor resulted in any increase in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour.
Statistics from 2012 show a marked improvement in the correlation
between driving accuracy and money rank, the key measurement that had
deteriorated in the decade leading up to the groove rule.
Rugge does not point to the groove rule as the most significant rule
change in his tenure, but rather the change to a more relaxed set of
rules governing clubhead adjustability, saying that rule "will continue
to evolve in ways that benefit golfers, manufacturers, retailers, and
even golf journalists, all without harming the challenge of the game."
more practical terms, Rugge sought to bring respect for and an openness
to the USGA's Research and Test Center team. The group earned an ISO
9001 Quality Management System certification under Rugge's stewardship,
and in November 2010, working with his counterparts at the R&A,
golf's rulemakers convened a meeting in between manufacturers and the
ruling bodies to discuss the equipment evaluation and rulemaking
process. Rugge himself, along with his staff, even began conducting
tours of the Research and Test Center for visitors to the USGA Museum.
by either side of the equipment technology debate for either being too
intrusive or not doing enough, the USGA during Rugge's tenure did
institute more equipment-related rules than at any time in its
history. In the 12 full seasons since Rugge was named senior technical
director for the USGA, driving distance has increased 10.5 yards. Rugge
was part of the USGA team that announced in May 2002 a Joint Statement
of Principles with the R&A governing future equipment regulation. In
the 10 years since that announcement, driving distance has increased
For his part, Rugge acknowledged
that his tenure saw a significant number of equipment rules, decisions
and notices to manufacturers, but it was only borne out of necessity.
equipment manufacturers have the skills, resources, and motivation to
continue to look for new ways to incorporate new technology into their
clubs," he said. "Because of their heightened activity and our mission
to maintain the challenge of the game, we needed to step up our
attention and actions."