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USGA, R&A publish equipment document

July 18, 2011

It may not be the most important letter in the history of international diplomacy, but a 12-page communique sent July 8 from golf's ruling bodies to equipment manufacturers seems to be another meaningful step toward a more open and even collaborative rulemaking process when it comes to equipment.

The letter, obtained by Golf Digest, provides a formal review of the landmark Vancouver Equipment Forum held last November to discuss equipment rules and testing procedures. The forum was framed by nine topics, ranging from further publicizing the ongoing equipment rules research conducted by the ruling bodies to adjusting the timing of concurrent rule changes.

The July 8 letter provides both a summary of the discussions in Vancouver, as well as detailed proposals for procedural changes. Throughout the document, the USGA seems to be emphasizing a tone of enhanced transparency in its procedures.That sense of cooperation was initially voiced in April by Steve McCracken, chief administrative office and senior vice president at Callaway Golf, as well as the chairman of the U.S. Golf Manufacturers Association. The industry trade group spoke at the Vancouver forum, a meeting McCracken called then "substantive," "constructive" and "collegial."

Typical in the July 8 memorandum is the language found under Topic 9, which deals with the rulemakers' currently broad but vague authority to change equipment rules or deem developed or existing equipment non-conforming because they are "contrary to the purpose and intent of the rules." (Currently, there is no expressed procedure for the way this clause is applied.) The July 8 letter proposes seven guidelines to clarify the decision-making process to manufacturers, yet maintains the rulemakers' authority to "continue to apply the above clauses when necessary."

Golf Digest contacted several manufacturers, but most did not offer comments. Two who did: John Solheim, CEO and Chairman of Ping, and Benoit Vincent, chief technical officer at TaylorMade-adidas Golf. A more detailed and deliberate

Solheim: "It is an important step forward, and I am thankful the rule making bodies listened. The recommended changes not only shine more light on the process, but most importantly recognize a need to clearly define the perceived problem, and the goal, when suggesting an equipment rule change.   We are headed in the right direction."

Vincent: "The additional steps in each process discussed will improve the legal procedure and, like any addition, will slow down the overall process," Vincent said in an e-mail. "Heavier procedures may slow down some ruling processes like we just experienced (as it took more than seven months to get the USGA and R&A to just publish the new procedures discussed last November). On the other side, the definition of clear reasons, goals and the evaluation of a new rule should reduce an emotional approach of ruling and prioritize scientific estimates of problems, solutions and benefits."

While it has taken more than half a year to produce some definitive action plan based on the  Vancouver forum, the July 8 letter is only a beginning, said Dick Rugge, USGA senior technical director. Again, though, it appears to be a collaborative future.

"There is no specific timetable for decisions on these topics," he told Golf DIgest. "Timing somewhat depends on the responses that we receive to the proposal that we sent to more than 700 submitters of equipment."

--Mike Stachura