In May 2011, an article in The New York Times reported on the latest version of a golf ball that claims to reduce hooks and slices by 75 percent or more. After describing the self-correcting ball’s attributes, the story noted that the product does not conform to the Rules of Golf.
Since the article was published, the United States Golf Association has received numerous questions and comments about the ball. However, this is not a new phenomenon, and in response to each such inquiry, the USGA has reaffirmed its position on self-correcting balls: They are not conforming to the Rules of Golf.
This stance has not changed since another self-correcting ball first gained widespread attention more than three decades ago. In fact, when The Wall Street Journal featured such a ball on the front page of its May 18, 1977 edition, the USGA already had issued a press release declaring both a position on self-correcting golf balls and the intent to consider adopting a new rule applicable to balls that “would reduce the skill required to play golf and threaten the integrity of the game.”
In 1980 the USGA adopted the Symmetry Rule, which was modified in 1990 and is enforced by both a performance test, which has changed over the years, and a litmus test of intent. The basic tenets of the Rule remain the same now as then:
1. The ball must not be designed, manufactured or intentionally modified to have properties that differ from those of a spherically symmetric ball.
2. The intent in design to produce a ball that would perform in an asymmetrical way would itself be sufficient to consider the product non-conforming.
This means that balls that self-correct, balls that are designed with the intent to self-correct, or balls that otherwise produce unusually less hook or slice compared to traditional and customary golf balls will be considered non-conforming to the Rules of Golf.
The USGA continues to monitor the effectiveness of the Rules of Golf within the ever-evolving landscape of technology and innovation to ensure that the fundamental principle of golf remains the same – that it is, above all, a game of skill.