Twenty years after settling a lawsuit over square grooves in irons, the U.S. Golf Association proposed a change Tuesday that would limit the amount of spin produced by U-shaped grooves.
The proposal would not ban U-shaped grooves, but would set specifications so that they performed like V-shaped grooves, producing less spin, especially out of the rough. One concern in recent years is that players can hit tee shots as far as possible, even if the ball lands in the rough, knowing that extra spin will help keep the approach shot on the green.
It was a joint proposal by the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club, although the R&A announced the proposal as a way of restoring "the historical importance of driving accuracy in the game.''
The USGA and R&A will take comment on the proposals until Aug. 1 before deciding whether to change the specifications on grooves.
Grooves first became an issue in 1987 when Mark Calcavecchia hit a Ping Eye2 iron from the rough that stopped quickly on the green while winning the Honda Classic. The USGA concluded in 1988 that there was no benefit from the grooves.
According to Golf Digest magazine, the USGA and Ping founder Karsten Solheim settled their lawsuit in 1990 with the USGA agreeing to accept Ping Eye2 irons. The PGA Tour settled its lawsuit with Ping a few years later, agreeing not to ban U-grooves.
Why the turnaround?
Dick Rugge, senior technical director of the USGA, said officials didn't have the same equipment two decades ago to study the spin rate of balls coming out of the rough.
"We didn't have 20 more years of hard data from the PGA Tour that there was a problem caused by getting out of the rough easily,'' Rugge said. "We're looking at a lot more information.''
He said manufacturers were sent technical reports in August and January, both totaling some 280 pages.
John Solheim, CEO of Ping and son of the late founder, said he would have to evaluate the reports.
"As always, it concerns us when the USGA proposes changes that could affect our ability to improve our products,'' Solheim said. "Golfers rely on us to be innovative so they can enjoy the game more. Any time that ability is challenged, it concerns us.''
Rugge said the proposal is not a ban on U-shaped grooves, rather their characteristics measures in fraction of inches. He said USGA research has shown that a 5-iron with U-grooves spins 7,000 rpm, while the same club with V-grooves spins about 4,000 rpm.
David Rickman, director of rules and equipment standards for the R&A, said science has shown "clear evidence'' that certain grooves allow the best players to get more spin, especially with the modern golf ball.
"By limiting the amount of spin that can be generated for shots from the rough, we hope to place greater emphasis on accuracy and the skill required to recover from the rough,'' Rickman said. "It is a matter of re-establishing a proper balance to the game and ensuring that skill remains the dominant element of success.''