Rating Golf Equipment and Tying it to Handicap

For my first new blog entry of the New Year, I wanted it to be thought provoking and you will see why in a second.  What lead to this was an article I recently read on Golf.com about rating golf equipment and tying it to the player’s golf handicap, much like they do course slope ratings.  What you say?  If you think your head has been buried in the sand during the holidays, don’t worry as little has been publicized about it. I want to first state if there is one golf club equipment company I have the utmost respect for, it would be Ping Golf.  That is why these comments took me aback and why I have tried to wrap my fingers around the reasoning behind them.

Who will do the ratings?
To be fair, you would really need an independent or outside agency to conduct these ratings to be credible. Does the USGA (or R&A) want to get involved?  I seriously doubt it. The tradition of golf has always been one set of rules for all and this would mean that would no longer exist.

Are the ratings going to be generic? For example, will any head larger than X-amount but less than Y-amount, be given the same rating?  What if the player ran a groove sharpener on their 2010 conforming irons or began sanding the face of the conforming driver thinner and made them no longer conforming – who would police it and how would one account for it if someone was honest about admitting to it?

Or would the ratings be much more complicated than that?  I would argue this next statement vehemently, but in the minds of the OEM’s, USGA and general public, all component heads are inferior to brand name clubs because they don’t see the pros using them on TV. If that was the case, the same score with Hireko golf clubs (Acer, Dynacraft, Power Play, iBella) would mean a lower net score than with a set of Pings because they would have to be rated lower. If so, golfers would have to be nuts to pay the high price of clubs when they know they are going to score the same if equipped with the same golf club shafts and golf club grips.  That also opens up another can-of-worms.  Does the type of shaft and grip play into the rating system too?  After all, golf balls were mentioned.

If you thought our tax code was complicated…
Even on Capitol Hill, the members all know (but won’t agree on it or anything else) a simpler tax code in necessary.  Could you image going though each of the 14 clubs in your bag and going, “Well I need to subtract 2 from my golf handicap for this 480cc driver with a 0.870 COR, subtract 3 more for my Shred-o-Matic 52, 56 and 60º wedge set, subtract yet another for my Polara ball…oh, I at least get to add one for my vintage Titleist Bull’s Eye, non-anchored putter.”  Golfers already have enough problems remembering to clean their golf club grips and component golf  club heads beforehand, now they will have to further calculate (and debate) how many strokes they are going to give to one another on the first tee for their weekly skins game. But I do see an app for that in the future.

Writing on the walls
Or is there something more sinister in the works for the long term future of golf?  For example, is Ping (or for that matter) any manufacturer knowingly thinking of making certain retail clubs that won’t conform to the current Rules of Golf?  Or is the USGA going to roll back and relax some of the equipment rules? Most golfers already know the difference between old golf club grooves and new golf club grooves means virtual zilch to the average golfer’s score. Plus it is easier and less expensive to manufacturer knowing these type clubs don’t need to conform.  However, golf club drivers could be larger (more forgiving) than the current 460cc or the spring-like effect could exceed existing limits (more distance).  It would open up the floodgates for potential new equipment that manufacturer’s wouldn’t dare to come out with now that would be deemed non-conforming.  Golfers don’t want to be accused of cheating regardless if they play by the rules or not no more than a manufacturer wants to invest into clubs the general public may not be interested in buying. It’s a double-edges sword.

Might we see drastic change to golf itself?  When you think about the Rules of Golf, who is to say the PGA of America couldn’t adopt their own set of equipment rules for their tournaments that are less regulatory.  After all, there are only a couple handfuls of manufacturers with deep enough pocket able to sponsor club contracts for the professionals.  It wouldn’t take long to get all of them on board and the other manufacturers to follow.  The average golfer would likely purchase the equipment the players on tour use (even though they swing nowhere like them in the vast majority of cases).  Sure, we could still have the US Open, US Amateur, Mid Am, etc.  Those could go by the current set of rules. I serious doubt this is the case or intent, but would be a way for manufacturers to circumvent the rigid regulations imposed on golf clubs in the past dozen years.

What is the likelihood of this happening?
Mind you, none of these thoughts may be on the table at any name brand manufacturer’s board room. But it does cause my mind to speculate or read the tea leaves from Mr. Solheim’s comments. Why even debunk the status quo?  Personally, I play golf only for the fun and health benefits as am I sure the majority of golfers do – especially our customer base.  I am certainly not going back to wooden woods as I revere the equipment we have today. But I also don’t want a 550cc driver than is going to pierce my ear drums and potentially cave in if the walls are too thin.

If the comments are made to get more golfers back in the game and toward growing participation, then I am all for it. Where do I sign up?  I think there are easier ways of doing so that are less complicated such as designing smaller executive-style, par 3 or pitch-n-putt courses where time, space and money are less of a barrier as there will always be the longer and more challenging courses to play.  Another important thing to remember is only one in five golfers even carries a USGA handicap.

5 comments

  1. Gary says:

    John Solheim has applied for a patent on his new method of handicapping.

  2. DaveT says:

    Sounds totally off the wall to me. You pick the equipment that fits you, and you play with it. Why should someone have to concern themselves with an index for the equipment as well? Way too much complexity!

    Then you mentioned, well maybe I can play otherwise illegal equipment at the cost of a few strokes. That is even crazier.

    You speculated that some people would like to use clubs that are non-conforming. If all they do is hack around for enjoyment, LET THEM!!! If they compete with their friends, LET THEIR FRIENDS DECIDE! If they compete more broadly, THAT’S NOT GOLF! Non-conforming clubs and balls do exist already; there are manufacturers catering to that crowd. If it is a real market, there will be more manufacturers doing it. I don’t see ANY advantage to the USGA/R&A to endorse this practice and charge a tax in strokes for it.

  3. Justin says:

    Regardless, someone somewhere is floating this idea around because they want to make a buck off it. If Gary’s right, sounds like Ping is that someone.

    Could you imagine?

    Me: “OK, so I have this brand-name driver. It has the newest ‘it’ shaft and grip. I have to give up 4 strokes for that, right? OK… I also have had this brand new, expensive, brand name head hot-melted, but they kinda botched it. The CG location was moved 1/16″ too far towards the toe…”

    Any Sane Playing Partner: “Are we going to golf, or what? Cheezus!”

    You think rounds are too long now…

  4. James says:

    Gary is right, a patent for this is currently pending from Ping (specifically John Solheim). I think it’s a fundamentally sound idea, because if you think about it a 12 handicapper who is playing a set of blades from 1975 is going to be a more skilled golfer than someone who is also a 12hcp but is using the latest “super game improvement” iron. The former golfer would probably be a <10hcp if he were using more forgiving equipment, and the latter golfer would most likely be a 15-20hcp if he were using those same blades.

    So wouldn't it be more fair to match the 12hcp guy with the blades up against a 15hcp who has more forgiving clubs, and the guy with super-game-improvement clubs up against a 10hcp who plays with blades? That way you're matching skill level vs. skill level and completely taking equipment out of the scoring.

    And you might say "why don't you just buy the best equipment for your game then?" Well maybe the guy who's playing 40 year old blades can't afford new clubs, he's on a tight budget and he'd rather put every penny he can spare towards playing the game rather than buying new equipment.

    It will definitely require long and careful consideration on how to implement the system, but I think the general idea makes perfect sense.

  5. Justin says:

    Gear used doesn’t mean a lot to anyone other than the person using it. Yes, a Ti-faced driver may give someone with a 95mph swing 8 more yards, but so what? Should someone- a traditionalist, perhaps- be downgraded just for wanting to stick with persimmon?

    Another thought: let’s say I bring out my XK’s (as Jeff put it, something that would be considered inferior) and just beat down someone with a new set of Pings (which would not-so-obviously rated very high). What does that say about me, the other golfer and the gear? Shouldn’t the rationale show that it’s more about the golfer and not their implements?

    Seriously, I can’t be the only one to find this whole idea (using the term loosely) just stupid?

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