EQUIPMENT
Information About USGA Reduced-Distance Golf Ball Testing August 29, 2010 By Dick Rugge, USGA Senior Technical Director

Recently, some articles and editorials have been published regarding an ongoing USGA research project: reduced-distance golf balls. This is a project that the USGA has been working on with the cooperation of golf ball manufacturers for the past five years. During that time, the USGA has conducted numerous player tests with various levels of golfers, including professionals.  We plan to do more.  

I’ve been asked why we don’t publicize our reduced-distance ball testing results. The first answer is simple: publicizing test results can poison the well of future potential test participants. This is particularly true for tests where players’ opinions are the primary results we are seeking. Reduced-distance golf ball testing, while not entirely focused on opinions, is a type of test in which player opinions are very important.   

Player testing of golf equipment often involves human performance and very human opinions. Test participants who have a preconceived idea about what to expect from that testing are more likely to give an influenced opinion. If a participant reads or hears about some anecdotal “results,” reportedly based on a similar test, whatever was publicized is likely going to have an effect on subsequent test results. Furthermore, one participant’s opinions, while important to us, may be far different from the opinions of others taking part in the test.   

For example, if a new drug was being evaluated for possible side effects, and someone published an article stating that one previous study participant perceived that it caused headaches, there would likely be many more cases of “headaches” showing up in subsequent trials. Maybe it’s an accurate response and maybe it’s not. The publication of very limited test results makes it hard to tell the difference in subsequent testing.   

Here’s the second reason for not publicizing our ball testing results. We understand that there will always be a measure of interest in research projects undertaken by the USGA. We also understand that untimely and inaccurate publication of our research data can lead to conclusions and expectations that are both wrong and potentially confusing to many of the USGA’s constituents, including golfers and the golf industry.   

Weighing the importance of getting good data vs. satisfying some people’s curiosity is a slam dunk. We need to get good data and avoid causing confusion, much more than we need to satisfy curiosity. Untimely publication of such information will just make it more difficult for us to do our job.   

As it has in the past, the USGA will publish research data when it is both timely and appropriate.