As we enter August, the PGA Tour Championship close upon us and the barrage of back to school jingles on TV, we have had time to reflect on what impact the new groove rules have made throughout the industry. The big buzz at the beginning of the year was all focused on grooves. As you may recall, the USGA and R&A (golf’s two governing bodies) decided to change the Rules of Golf pertaining to groove dimensions but staggered how the rule would be phased in depending on skill level of the golfer.
For the first time, not all the Rules of Golf would apply to all levels of golfers. This was due to a stricter rule that was implemented starting Jan. 1, 2010 regarding the grooves of any club that has 25º of loft or more. After Jan 1, 2010, the Condition of Competition required clubs to conform only to those competitions involving expert professional players at the highest level of competition, including the professional tours plus the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, and the U.S. Senior Open starting with the sectional qualifying.
Currently conforming clubs manufactured prior to January 1, 2010 may continue to be used in all situations wherein the Condition of Competition is not in effect until at least 2024. For the remaining 99% of golfers who don’t compete at the highest level of competition, those clubs that currently conform may continue to be used to maintain a handicap or post a score. However, this clause pertains to clubs that are “manufactured by” January 1, 2011. Yes, that is the end of this year and a recent reminder in a letter by the USGA addressed to manufacturers at the end of July. A small quote from that letter is listed below:
“The Governing Bodies wish to affirm that in normal course they have no wish to interfere with the commercial arrangements of the manufacturing industry. Our goal has always been to achieve a smooth transition to the new groove rules, while minimizing the impact of the changes for all golfers. In this particular case, however, we concluded that a necessary component of the establishment of a crossover date for implementation of the new rule should include reference to “manufactured by” and “sold by” dates. Such inclusions are very rare and the Governing Bodies believe that while careful management by the manufacturing community is needed, this arrangement will result in much less impact on the vast majority of golfers than a single date for the introduction of the Rule.”
What is the mission of the USGA?
The mission of the USGA is to “preserve its past, foster its future and champion its best interests for everyone who enjoys the game”. How do they do that? By creating rules that everyone who plays by the rule are to abide by. I have a lot of respect for the USGA and how they have kept this great game fair for all. I truly enjoy this game as a player and someone who makes his living from the sale of golf equipment. I literally eat and sleep golf 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But in the past decade the USGA has created new rules to put restrictions on technology, which affects the future growth of the game the very same they are trying to protect. But this new groove rule has got me and many others in the golf industry up in arms. Now they are dictating “what” and “when” equipment can be sold. What’s next, “who” and “where”?
First, it is impossible to know when a club was manufactured once it is in the marketplace as clubs don’t have born on dating like food items. Plus, it is bad enough that the life cycle of a product is already 2 years or less and to accelerate that process only hurts all of those in golf – especially on a model that was just recently introduced that has sold well. Manufacturers like us have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars in new tooling, new machinery and new testing equipment just so the groove edge radius can be within a specified tolerance on an iron or wedge that will show no marked improvement in the old one they were told they had to phase out. Believe me, clubs will cost more to produce which the consumer will ultimately end up paying for.
What has been the impact of the new grooves after all?
Let’s see, I recall Paul Goydos’s shot the mythical 59 at the John Deere Classic earlier this year using the new grooves. Just yesterday, Stuart Appleby matched that feat in the closing round of the Greenbriar Classic. Were these flukes? Would either one of them had scored even lower and set a new standard in golf using the old grooves? If you look at the PGA Tour stats compiled so far this year to stats of all of last year you really see just how little has changed. Granted, even though the same courses are played on a yearly basis, you do have different weather conditions, players, equipment and course set ups. But statistics are a good indicator to see trends.
For instance, it is not like the statistic for average driver distance that went up substantially over the years since titanium drivers were introduced and the USGA needed to put a restriction on the spring-like effect of clubheads. Although some of that extra distance could be easily explained by better conditioning of players, how courses are better maintained, improved ball balls, lighter and longer clubs or the better shaft technologies introduced.
For instance, what was the new groove rule suppose to prevent? Produce less spin! I should re-state, produce less aggressive grooves by a couple manufacturers trying to circumvent the previous rules. So if you study statistics you should see a reduction of green in regulations or an increase amount putts per round because the ball would roll more once it hits the green and be further from the hole. Both of these stats are the biggest determinates of scoring.
Let’s take a look at some PGA Tour statistics by taking the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc. position up to the 180th and creating an average for both 2010 (up to July 25th) and for all of 2009. By the way, you can find all of these stats on the PGA Tour website.
GIR = Greens in regulation
PPR = Putts per round
After 7 full months the answer is the grooves do have some measurable impact on the most elite golfers in the world. Let’s see, 0.5% fewer greens in regulations, a 1/10 of a stroke added to putting and 0.14 of a point added to the average score. Not the kind of smoking gun I would expect for all the hoopla and added cost and time in manufacturing.
What difference is it going to make to the average golfer who doesn’t play under the same stellar course conditions that the PGA Tour players enjoy or make the same solid contact? If it is any indication of this writer who is an average golfer and had the luxury of playing both the old type of groove and the new one – absolutely nothing!
If the USGA wants a roll back technology, do so with the ball. Golf clubs remain in the marketplace or continued to be used sometimes for 2 decades while balls are consumable goods that get lost or taken out of play after so many uses. That is the answer. Don’t make silly rules that will be costly to manufacturers and consumers alike when it will not make any difference to their game now or the future of golf.
Now the question I would like to ask our customers is “Do you care that we must have all club with 25º of loft or more conform to the stricter groove rule?”