Thank you for taking the time to express your opinions regarding the groove rule change. In response, I have some comments that I would like to offer that hopefully will give you a better idea of why the USGA made this rule change. I noted your concern that the new groove rule would “change golf”. Actually, golf has already undergone a significant change due to groove evolution. We are attempting to undo the change that has already happened. We believe that this is in the best interest of the game.
At its simplest, golf is a series of artificial impediments to achievement of a goal that we place before ourselves. We do this to create a challenge so that overcoming the challenge rewards us with the satisfaction of accomplishment. As a low handicap golfer, you no doubt appreciate the opportunities to overcome the challenges of the game. If there were no obstacles, such as distance, hazards, trees, undulating greens, weather, skill requirements, etc., golf would be rather boring and would probably have long ago ceased to exist. One of the key missions of the equipment rules is to maintain the challenge of the game by regulating equipment. We strive to do this in a balanced manner because we recognize that the history of the game includes a history of golf club and ball evolution. That’s why we have allowed such things as clubs with spring effect and clubs as large as 460 cc. In both cases, a fair amount -but not an unlimited amount - of club evolution has been permitted. We believe that this practice serves the game well.
The groove rule change resulted from substantial research work done by the USGA. The USGA research staff includes six engineers, three of whom are PhD mechanical engineers. We take our research very seriously and conduct it with the best test equipment we can obtain along with the use of Tour players and amateurs as well. This research work was begun after some Tour players - including Arnold Palmer - told us that the game at their level had changed too much because of the ease that golfers escaped from the rough. That allowed them to be far less concerned about driving accurately. Our lengthy research confirmed Mr. Palmer’s belief. If you are interested, the technical research reports on grooves that the USGA published during 2006-2007 are available to anyone with internet access on the Equipment section of the USGA Web site at the following location: usga.org/Content.aspx?id=24246. We believe that this is the most comprehensive research ever conducted on grooves.
Not surprisingly, opinions of Tour players vary on this topic. One significant opinion recently came from Tiger Woods who said of the rule change: “It’s great. We’ve known for over a couple years now what this decision was going to be and we’ve had plenty of time to make our adjustments”. In addition to the support of the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, Augusta National, the LPGA, and all top professional Tours around the world have endorsed the groove rule change. The R&A is implementing the rule change at the same time as the USGA.
This is a rule change intended to bring back more challenge to playing from the rough- especially for the best players. There should be little affect on shots from the fairway. In this way, driving accuracy should be rewarded more than it is today.
Our research told us that a groove rule change would be an equipment rule change that would have a minimal effect on the play of typical golfers while having a significant effect on golfers at the highest skill level. The reason why this won’t have much effect on average golfers is twofold:
Most golfers don’t hit greens from the rough very often, and this change only effect balls hit from the rough to the green;
Groove designs have virtually no effect on Surlyn covered balls. Since two-thirds of the golf balls sold are Surlyn covered, and those less expensive balls are usually played by typical golfers, the effect of the new groove will be small for the play of most golfers.
I think that is an excellent combination for a rule change and much preferred to other types of rule changes that would strongly affect all golfers (for example, ball distance). This is a change that will be virtually unnoticed by most golfers, and most amateurs won’t be giving up much of anything.
The vast majority of average golfers will be able to continue to play with their current clubs for many years to come. For most golfers, this rule will not go into effect until at least 2024 – 15 years from now. That date was not pulled out of the air, it was chosen based on data we obtained from the Darrell Survey of Consumer Golf Equipment, a nationally recognized golf club market research company whose information about club usage is probably the most widely respected and used in the club industry. Their survey of typical golfers from all around the country shows that only 2% of clubs in use are more than 15 years old. This data tells us that the natural replacement cycle of golf clubs will result in virtually no adverse financial effect for most golfers. Additionally, the USGA has stated that the 15-year implementation period will be the minimum length of time. This question will be reviewed again in 2020 to determine whether or not the 2024 date remains an appropriate final implementation date. While the date will not be made any sooner than 2024, it is possible that a later date could be chosen. This implementation plan, as with the rule itself, has been created specifically to minimize the impact on average golfers.
In 2010 the PGA Tour will be implementing a Condition of Competition which mandates the use of clubs with grooves conforming to the new groove rules. The USGA will also implement this beginning in 2010 for the three USGA open events, including the U.S. Open. All USGA amateur events will implement the Condition beginning in 2014.
You indicated that you believe that your course and others will incur additional expense because needing to change course conditioning. In particular you said that your course’s fast greens would need to change. I assume that you mean that they would need to be made slower. That change is one that usually results in less maintenance costs and healthier greens. We do not expect that golf courses will incur additional maintenance expenses as a result of this rule being implemented. And unless your club is hosting a Tour event, there is no need for even any consideration of changing course conditioning for years to come.
It is also worth noting that when the USGA makes an equipment rule change, we first propose it to manufacturers and other stakeholders in the game. At the same time, we publicize the proposed change to the general public via press release. The groove rule change was first proposed in February 2007 and received widespread press coverage. We received many comments regarding the proposed change from the manufacturers and from golfers. The final rule change decision announced in August 2008 was substantially modified from the original proposal as a result of the comments we received from both manufacturers and from golfers. We have an inclusive process.
Thank you again for expressing your opinions. If you are ever in the New York metropolitan area I hope you can find the time to visit the USGA Museum and particularly the Test Center at Far Hills, N.J.; we’re about 45 minutes away from Manhattan. During the week, all visitors to the museum have an opportunity to get at tour of the Test Center. One of our technical staff members (which could be me because we all take turns) would be happy to show you around and explain how the USGA conducts testing, and I think you might find it to be interesting.
Senior Technical Director
United States Golf Association