Gear & EquipmentApril 13, 2011

USGA to consider equipment changes

Remember that meeting between manufacturers and golf's rulemakers held in Vancouver back in November? Well, something's finally happened as a result of that day-long forum.

Sort of.

The U.S. Golf Association announced in a letter to golf equipment manufacturers this month that it is considering "procedural changes" in its equipment rulemaking process. The letter, dated April 1 and recently obtained by Golf Digest, indicates a notice of proposed changes could be published "in the middle of 2011."

The two-page letter is the result of a forum on equipment rule-making procedures conducted by the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Vancouver, Canada in November of 2010. An estimated 50 representatives from equipment companies attended that meeting, which USGA Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge termed at the time "a healthy exchange of views with both sides listening to and learning from each other."

To be precise, the subject matter of the Vancouver forum was more esoteric than dramatic. This wasn't a discussion over ball or groove rollbacks or even adjustability expansion, but rather a conversation about how procedures might be improved and perhaps made more open. Rugge said 800 separate entities were invited to the November meeting.

Still, the recent letter, which arrives four months after the Vancouver forum, seems light on substance, perhaps intentionally so because there isn't anything specific to say currently. The majority of its contents merely itemizes the nine topics originally discussed at the Vancouver meeting  (see below).

The letter concludes, "Based on the discussions at the Forum, the USGA and The R&A are evaluating the procedures and practices currently used in administering the equipment rules.

"This evaluation is ongoing. As further progress is made, we plan to publish a notice of proposed procedural changes for consideration and further discussion. We expect to publish this consultative notice by the middle of 2011."

In other words, after about 120 days of internal review, which admittedly occurred in the middle of the surprise retirement by USGA Executive Director David Fay, the search for his replacement and the eventual hiring of Mike Davis for the job, nothing much has happened.

Manufacturers contacted by Golf Digest either declined to comment or have not responded to requests for comment.

Rugge said today there is no timeline for enacting any changes to the rulemaking procedure and that the April 1 letter was designed to update manufacturers on the review of the Vancouver meeting's notes by the game's ruling bodies. Rugge indicated that at the request of manufacturers there was no recording or transcript made of the Vancouver meeting.

Rugge said he expects the elements of the "consultative notice" will come within the nine questions discussed at the Vancouver meeting. "There really isn't anything at this point to have a timeline for," Rugge said. "We're expecting to publish a proposal sometime in the middle of the year."

Here are the topics from the Vancouver forum:

               1. Should the USGA/R&A publicize the equipment research projects that are being worked on? 2. Once a Notice and Comment for a new rule has been published, should the USGA/R&A publicize all comments received? 3. Should the USGA/R&A publicize the details of individual submission rulings? 4. Should there be provisions implemented by the USGA/R&A to facilitate the changeover to clubs with new rules? (for example, "sell-by" provisions) 5. What improvements could be made to the rule change implementation process? Timing, communication, other aspects. 6. What is the preferred USGA/R&A test equipment change process? 7. How can sources outside the USGA/R&A recommend rule changes for consideration? This could include new rules, tightened rules, relaxed rules, and rule removal. 8. Should the impact of one rule change be documented and understood before another rule change is introduced? 9. Under what circumstances is it appropriate for the governing bodies to exercise the authority granted by the following provisions of the Rules of Golf?     "The USGA/R&A reserve the right, at any time, to change the Rules relating to clubs and balls and make or change the interpretations relating to these Rules."     "Any design in a club or ball which is not covered by the Rules, which is contrary to the purpose and intent of the Rules or which might significantly change the nature of the game, will be ruled on by the USGA/R&A." 

Typically, the USGA conducts a press conference the week of the U.S. Open, although equipment announcements are not necessarily timed to any of the USGA's championship events.--Mike Stachura

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