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
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
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.