Report Of The Equipment Standards Committee To The 2006 USGA Annual Meeting
February 7, 2006
By Jim Vernon, Chairman of the Equipment Standards Committee
Simply stated, the Committee regulates clubs, balls and other equipment to assure compliance with the Rules of Golf. We regulate not just for the most accomplished golfers, but for all golfers, of all abilities .
Fred(Ridley) and Walter(Driver) have asked me to provide a more detailed report of the Equipment Standards Committee than is typical at an Annual Meeting. Let me start with what the Committee is charged with doing.
The underlying philosophy is set forth in detail in the Joint Statement of Principles adopted by the USGA and the R&A in 2002. In short, we are to remain vigilant to ensure that improvements in technology do not diminish the skill necessary to play the game.
To carry out that mandate, the USGA is fortunate to have a group of incredibly talented, intelligent, and inquisitive scientists who devote themselves to the task. Heading that group is Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge, who oversees a staff of 18. Dick has established himself as a person of credibility and candor, and that has served the USGA well in its relations with the manufacturers.
II. Accomplishments In 2005
Much of the time and effort of the Test Center staff in 2005 was focused on three areas: 1) Moment of inertia; 2) spin generation; and 3) the ball. I will get to each of those in a minute, but I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that we are not involved in other areas.
For example, we are investigating whether to liberalize the rules against adjustability of clubs so that it would be easier for golfers everywhere to take advantage of some of the improvements in clubs.
We have continued to measure the spring effect of iron club heads to monitor developments by the manufacturers and to assure that any increases in spring effect do not affect the way the game is played.
We have continued development of a turf impact tester for use on fairways and greens-to better understand the effects of course setup on player performance. We hope to refine the tester this year and to use it to generate more data at our championship sites this year.
We measured swing speed and launch conditions of all Tour pros at the 2005 U.S. Open in order to get a better understanding of how the game is being played by the best players.
Now let me return to those three areas where we focused so much of our time and effort in 2005.
A. Moment Of Inertia (MOI)
In August, we issued a notice of a proposal to impose a limit on the Moment of Inertia (MOI) of driver club heads and to adopt a test procedure to measure MOI. We received extensive and detailed comments from manufacturers, which have been most helpful. We are completing our analysis of those comments and are considering whether to adopt the proposed limit and test procedure. That decision should be finalized and announced within the next few weeks.
B. Spin Generation
We have spent considerable time researching how spin is generated by a clubface. It has been a most revealing project and has greatly increased our knowledge of how different features of the clubface, and the construction of the ball itself, are responsible for imparting spin to the ball. We hope to finish the project later this year, and we will then determine whether new rules would be desirable.
Before I go any further, let me take this opportunity to thank the manufacturers for their efforts to cooperate with the USGA in carrying out our equipment related responsibilties. While we do not always agree with each other, we are able to have frank and candid exchanges of information and ideas. That is good for everyone involved.
I also want to acknowledge the support shown by Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour. They repeatedly have acknowledged that the USGA and the R&A are the appropriate rule-making bodies for regulating golf equipment. They have publicly supported our research efforts, particularly our ball project-and have recognized that it is only through that research that we can define what options are available to regulate club and ball performance and can make educated assessments of the effects of those options. And they have given us full access to the data generated by their new ShotLink System for every shot at every tour event. As a result, we have a far clearer picture of how the game is being played by the best players. Actual data has replaced speculation and opinion because of ShotLink.
C. The Ball
Central to our investigations is our ball project. In 2002, the USGA committed the funds necessary to conduct advanced research on all aspects of the golf ball and its performance characteristics, including:
Moment of inertia
The ultimate goal is to determine how performance might best be regulated if under the Statement of Principles it is determined to be necessary. In the course of this project, we have developed what we believe to be modeling techniques that lead the manufacturers. In some ways we think we have an even better understanding of ball performance characteristics than some of the manufacturers.
Last April, we asked the ball manufacturers to participate in the project by developing and submitting to us reduced distance golf balls that would comply with an ODS of either 15 yards or 25 yards shorter than the current standard. All the major manufacturers agreed to participate. Currently, we have received two sets of such balls. We expect to receive at least seven more sets of balls within the next two months. We understand that creating new balls with playing characteristics that will be acceptable to today's golfers takes time and we appreciate the thorough job ball manufacturers are doing in support of our research.
We will test all these balls in the Test Center. Just as importantly, we will then evaluate the balls with real golfers of many different skill levels, from elite players to those with much slower swing speeds. We want to determine the effects that such balls would have on how the game is played by golfers of all different skill levels. III. Distance And The de-skilling Of The Game
Now let me address the issue that continues to generate more discussion than any other topic regarding technology and the game of golf-the distance elite players are hitting the golf ball. What we are learning from our many research activities is that the issue of distance is even more complex than we originally appreciated. Indeed, while distance certainly remains an issue, it is part of a broader change in the way the game is being played, what some are describing as the "de-skilling" of the game at the elite level. While discussion of this controversial topic has focused on the golf ball, it actually involves the interaction of all the other factors that are involved in hitting the ball: Higher spring effect in drivers;
Bigger club heads with bigger sweet spots, which impart less spin to the ball -- more forgiving clubs that allow accomplished players to swing harder and that reduce the distance penalty for hitting a shot off center;
Higher swing speeds due primarily to increased athleticism, but also to longer, lighter clubs;
Development of balls with lower spin rates and improved aerodynamic properties;
Development of groove configurations and surface treatments of iron clubfaces that allow accomplished players to impart spin to the ball even out of the rough; and
Use of advanced launch monitors to match clubs, shafts and balls to an individual player's swing.
We know that the way the way the game is being played by accomplished players has changed dramatically in recent years. All the research I have described has given us a much better idea what has made that change possible. It is not just that driving distances have increased among elite players. What I am suggesting is that we need to re-frame the discussion of how the game is being changed. Consider these factors:
Average driving distance on the PGA Tour continues to increase, but the increases have leveled off the last two years - 1.0 yard in 2004 and 1.6 yards in 2005.
At the same time, there has been a clear increase in the number of Tour pros who average more than 300 yards.
We know from the ShotLink data provided by the PGA Tour that driving accuracy has ceased to be a factor in predicting success on the PGA Tour.
We know from other data that Tour pros are swinging their drivers faster and faster, and that the larger, higher MOI drivers allow them to hit the ball farther even when they strike the ball well off the center of the clubface.
We know that the groove configurations and surface treatments on modern irons, when accomplished players hit their drives into the rough, they can generate more spin out of the rough, allowing them to hit more greens when they have missed the fairway.
The same spin generation features of today's iron clubfaces increase accomplished players' probability of recovering when they miss the green.
There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. Our task this year is to continue to evaluate all these factors and to determine whether new regulations would be appropriate to require the elite players in particular to regain some of the skills that were more important in the past. The task is complicated, or course, by what I said at the beginning of my remarks -- we regulate equipment for all golfers of all skill levels, not just PGA Tour pros.
We also are mindful of something else in the Statement of Principles: that increased distancehas other negative ramifications that we seek to avoid -- the lengthening and toughening of coursesin response to increases in distanceis costly and in many cases impossible. It alsohasnegativeeffectson environmental and ecological issues,onthe costs of maintaining courses andon thepace of play as well. IV. Conclusion
The Equipment Standards Committee has set an aggressive agenda for 2006, and we believe it accurately reflects the state of the industry and the game. Underlying all our efforts will be the philosophy set forth in the Statement of Principles: we will remain vigilant to assure that technology does not diminish the skill necessary to play the game.