Though it drew little notice when it came across my inbox a few weeks back, its significance may last for decades. The news was that the U.S. Golf Association's Equipment Standards Department, home to the Research and Test Center at the organization's headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., and the place where every club, ball and occasionally shoe and tee gets ruled upon, recently received ISO 9001 Quality Management Certification. It perhaps marks another effort for the game's ruling bodies to feel confident that their methods are thorough, legitimate and--nearly as important--worthy of respect from those whose products they are charged with judging.
Only one equipment company, Ping, has received an ISO rating. The rating is essentially a classification that suggests that the organization, its facilities and its personnel are devoted to quality management practices. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standards, and its 9001:2008 certification is the highest grade an organization or corporation can receive for intstitutional control designed to assure quality and continual improvement in its production and management processes. According to the ISO website, its certification is implemented by more than a million organizations in 176 countries.
Although few equipment companies had specific comments on the designation, Ping chairman John Solheim said he thinks the certificiation can bear fruit for golf's rulemaking bodies.
"As the only golf company that is ISO certified, we're pleased to see the USGA go down the same path," said John Solheim, PING Chairman & CEO. "ISO certification demands continuous improvement in every aspect of your business. We chose to implement it more than 10 years ago and have seen significant benefits across our entire organization. I'm hopeful the USGA will realize similar results which could greatly improve its previous testing protocols and processes."
According to the ISO website, ISO 9001:2008 provides a "tried and tested framework for taking a systematic approach to managing the organization's processes so that they consistently turn out product that satisfies customers' expectations." It seems not much of a stretch to say the USGA's Equipment Standards Department has been working in recent years to satisfy customers expectations, the customers in this case being the equipment manufacturers whose products the USGA is ruling on. A case in point was last November's open forum on equipment rulemaking procedures, hosted by the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Many of the topics dealt with methods and practices, and there appeared to be an air of cooperation developing both in the meeting and afterward. In April, the USGA announced that a notice of proposed rulemaking procedural changes could be published "in the middle of 2011."
There always will exist an antagonistic relationship between the rulemaking bodies and manufacturers (sometimes more, sometimes less, of course), but it's probably fair to suggest that the USGA is doing what it can to maintain a level of respect for the integrity of the operations at its Test Center. When Steve McCracken said in April, "We're having good, friendly discussions on tough issues," it signaled a potential thawing in the more than occasionally rancorous iceberg that has been the relationship between golf's rulemakers and one of its principal constituencies.
In years past, manufacturers have complained that their voices were not being heard by the USGA. If the Equipment Standards Department is intent on meeting international quality guidelines, perhaps that achievement will resonate further with those trying to operate and thrive in a difficult innovation environment. Even if that's not true, it seems the USGA believes that earning high marks for quality control aren't an option, they're a requirement.
"Since we have the responsibility to determine the conformance of golf equipment submitted to us by manufacturers, it is essential that the testing that we perform and the business processes that we use be carried out in a controlled and consistent manner," said Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the USGA, who praised his entire staff for meeting the high standards. "Achieving ISO 9001 certification confirms that we do exactly that."