PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

The Loop

Industry council hopeful of USGA change

April 13, 2011

To paraphrase Seinfeld, sometimes nothing really might be something.

This month's announcement from golf's ruling bodies that they are considering procedural changes in the making of equipment rules, although decidedly light on specifics, may be an indication of a fundamental shift in the atmosphere between golf's manufacturers and the rulemakers.

At least, that's the hopeful view of Steve McCracken, chief administrative officer and senior vice president at Callaway Golf. McCracken also chairs the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Council, which  presented comments to the ruling bodies at last fall's landmark equipment forum in Vancouver.

"All the members of the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Council are happy that we've started a dialog and that we've had an event like the forum in Vancouver where we can raise these issues in a constructive and substantive way," McCracken told Golf Digest today. "We're pleased with the acknowledgment that the Council has played an important role in making that process not just substantive and constructive but collegial as well. We're having good, friendly discussions on tough issues."

McCracken admitted that the timing of recent April 1 letter from the USGA announcing its plans to issue a notice of proposed procedural changes in mid-summer was slower than he would have hoped for, but he also conceded that given that the USGA's Executive Committee is made up of volunteers, patience is a virtue.

"That process necessarily takes a lot of time," McCracken said. "It's sometimes hard for us in the industry to adjust to the idea other parts of the game which are very, very important are handled with a different organization on a different schedule. But that's the way it is and you need to work with it.

"It was good progress in setting up a forum. It was good progress in setting up something like the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Council to make the process work a little better around the edges. But ultimately it is a cumbersome process. They have promised us something substantive by the middle of the year, and we look forward to picking up the discussions from that point forward."

He sees a genuinely different environment for manufacturer-USGA relations compared to the last such industry-wide meeting with golf's ruling body. That infamous USGA Town Hall meeting over the spring-like effect rule held near USGA headquarters in New Jersey in 1998 left many manufacturers discouraged that their concerns, though voiced in that setting, were not being heard.

"This was really a breakthrough from 1998, but we need to walk before we can run," he said. "We were all encouraged by the discussion, we think we did a lot of things right and we're headed in the right direction."

But McCracken believes what happens in the next few months will have an epic effect on the future of golf, not merely for manufacturers, but for average golfers, as well.

"I think this is very, very important to everyone in that the process of rulemaking will affect the outcome," he said. "If we are able to look at certain steps in our rulemaking process that are aimed at defining what we want to achieve and at the same time make sure we do no harm to the game, that would be an important step that would affect the rules we adopt going forward."

The USGA's April 1 letter indicates the next step will come in the form of "a notice of proposed procedural changes for consideration and further discussion," to be issued in the middle of the summer.

"I am pleased and hopeful," McCracken said. "We'd all like it to move faster, and we all understand why it cannot, but we look forward to picking up the dialog in the middle of the year. My expectation is that the trend that was started with the forum in Vancouver will continue and the dialog will get better."

The tone of the nine topics under review by the ruling bodies suggests the consideration of a more open, two-way deliberative process in rule-making. But McCracken concedes he has "no sense whatsoever of what to expect."

"I think this is a big story, either way it turns out," he said. "If progress is made to have a better rule-making process, that's huge. If the door is slammed shut and constituencies in golf are not brought into that process, it's huge in the other direction."

--Mike Stachura