Interview: USGA's Dick Rugge on grooves and gear

<strong>Man with a plan</strong> Dick Rugge's got the rules, and the best interests of the game, in mind.
USGA/John Mummert

USGA Senior Technical Director Dick Rugge sat down for a talk with GOLF Magazine recently and explained why golf balls and drivers are safe, but grooves had to go.

GOLF Magazine: The new grooves rules represent the first equipment rollback in the last 75 years. Why now? What other instances might've merited rollbacks?
Rugge: The groove rules were modified because the game had changed in a very significant way due to equipment changes. Large, sharp-edged grooves had helped reduce the importance of driving accuracy, particularly for the most skilled golfers. By changing the groove specifications—by "softening" the shape of the grooves—we've addressed this situation in a way that has very little effect on most golfers. Strictly based on their potential to change the game, two other rollbacks could be considered—reducing golf ball distance and reducing clubhead size. However, in both cases, a rollback would impact virtually every golfer, not just the very best players, so we have no plans to roll back either.

GM: Under what scenario might we see future rollbacks?
Rugge: If it were determined that the game could be improved by implementing an equipment rollback. For example, if driving distance once again began to increase significantly, there may be a need to consider changes to the rules governing clubs or balls. It's purely hypothetical, but there could also come a time when environmental issues place such significant burdens on building or maintaining golf courses that reducing distance could become a necessity.

GM: How does the USGA assess new technology?
Rugge: Fortunately, the USGA is well equipped to conduct in-depth scientific analyses of new technologies. Our "crystal ball" is made up of PhD engineers who work in a world-class research lab and use sophisticated evaluation tools such as finite element analysis. We are able to consider a new technology in its initial implementation, as well as the ways in which it may evolve in the future. We can scientifically consider whether to prevent a precedent-setting technology from taking root, or to allow it with some reasonable controls in place from the beginning.

GM: How many clubs and/or balls, on average, are ruled nonconforming each year?
Rugge: With golf balls, a very low percentage are ruled nonconforming, typically less than 2 percent each year. However, about 20 percent of the clubs that are submitted to the USGA are ruled nonconforming.

Where appropriate, we provide guidance to the submitters of nonconforming equipment so that they can modify their designs to be approved. Our goal is the same as theirs—a conforming golf club.

GM: What's the USGA's position on having two sets of rules, one for skilled players and another set for the average Joe? Do you think it would be good for the game?
Rugge: The USGA continues to believe that a single set of rules for all players, regardless of their ability, is one of golf's greatest strengths. The USGA regards the prospect of having permanent separate rules for elite competition as undesirable and has no current plans to create separate equipment rules for highly skilled players. It should also be noted that most golfers of all skill levels prefer to have one set of rules for everyone. Being linked by the rules allows for fair comparisons and competitions between players of all skill levels. While circumstances may someday dictate otherwise, we have no vision of creating multiple sets of rules now or in the future.

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