October 15, 2009

Could The New USGA "V-Groove" Rules Be Much Dumber? Why Yes, They Can!

It's that time of year. Recently, my wife and other relatives have started asking me what I would like to receive for Christmas. "Like to receive" is a bit of a MacGuffin, because if I answered honestly I know there's no chance at all of it being under the tree, not even from my beloved Missus. After all, who in their right mind with a bank balance somewhere south of eight figures is going to give their husband or son-in-law an all-expenses paid trip for three rounds on the Old Course in St. Andrews, or a coupon book for ten private lessons with Hank Haney?

More seriously, my thoughts turned to what's reasonable and affordable and my first thoughts turned to wedges, because a short week after Christmas, the new USGA rules take effect. Trying to be somewhat practical, I thought that this might be a great time to stock up on the old style square grooves short game sticks since I have from 2010 to 2024 to use the old style. Why not gather up the "good stuff" now, while the getting is good?

Unfortunately a little research into the matter left me somewhat confused. You would think that the major manufacturers would have their old gear on sale, first to clear it out of their inventory, second, to sell the soon-to-be-nonconforming gear to guys like me, guys who could use every little bit of help they can get. That's not the case, however, and I didn't see any ads telling me to 'buy now while you still can.' Maybe that's to come, or maybe not. We'll see.

One thing I did run across was a very interesting explanation of the new rules from golfspy.com, and what they point out left me more confused than ever:

[T]he new Rules do change the way club faces and grooves must be manufactured in order to comply, and the wording has three substantive parts.
  • First, it changes the way manufacturers have to measure our grooves and spacing. Up to now, we only had to concern ourselves with the groove width, depth and space between the grooves. Those requirements and measurements haven’t changed, but the USGA added a fourth measurement requirement that defines a formula for the volume of groove dimension per inch of face. In simple terms, square grooves would have to be further apart than ‘v’ grooves because they can channel away more grass and moisture.
  • Secondly, the rule adds a new aspect, in that we will have to ensure that the edges of the grooves have a slight radius on them (at least a .010” radius to be exact), whereas currently we can offer you the sharp edges that result from the milling process. This is the change that will likely be the key to a reduction in spin from the newly conforming wedges and irons made after the rule goes into effect . . . if it really does go into effect as they would have us believe.

This part of the rule will undoubtedly increase the cost of wedges, as it will take special cutters to impart this radius to the edge of grooves, and a cutter so configured will wear out quicker than those we currently use. Obviously, the foundries and their machine shops will have to build in these costs to the cost of heads they make for all manufacturers. Thanks a lot, USGA.

  • Third, and maybe the most important aspect of the new Rule governing grooves, however, is that it allows for a “condition of competition” which says that the implementation of the Rule is up to the tournament committee as to whether or not it is implied. Hmmmmm. And it further suggests that the rule “only be applied to competitions involving ‘expert’ players” – in other words, the PGA Tour and USGA competitions. The USGA has clearly stated that it intends to implement the Rule for its three major open championships in 2010, and all other USGA events in 2014. And the USGA has been very clear that all currently conforming clubs will be approved for play until “at least 2024”!
I agree: Thanks a lot, USGA, for making golf even more expensive. Next to drivers and putters, the most often-changed clubs in the bag are usually wedges. That's because they already wear out faster than a typical seven-iron might and surely get used a lot more. While I understand the need to protect the sanctity of the game at its top end, fellows like me, that is, guys with low double-digit handicaps are damned unlikely to be ripping balls backwards ten feet when they hit the green from a shot out of the rough. We can't do it from a perfect lie in the fairway, much less one from 2.75" Bermuda. But thanks to our friends that make the Rules of the Game, we'll get to pay a little more for our high-lofted clubs...even though the old ones don't really help us all that much.

The USGA agrees with that assessment in their FAQ concerning new wedges:
MYTH: The new groove regulations will make success more difficult to achieve for the recreational golfer.

FACT: Most golfers will experience little, if any, change in their golf game because the new grooves only affect shots from the rough that hit the green, and these shots are made far more often by Tour players than by typical golfers. The rules change also has proven to have very little effect on the performance of the surlyn-covered balls that make up more than two-thirds of the golf balls [played by amateurs.]
So basically, it boils down to this: the new groove rule won't really hurt you, but you are going to have to pony up more after this season to replace your worn out wedges because they are going to cost more to make.

Where is the win for The Game in that? Golf already has a huge problem with it being too expensive, and it sounds like the USGA has implemented a new rule to make it even more expensive. That's counter-intuitive for an organization that claims it is all about growing the game of golf.

While it is obviously far too late to add my voice to this debate, one has to wonder why their cannot be two sets of wedges - those approved for Joe Sixpack and those approved for Stewart Cink. By that, I mean new gear for sale, not old gear approved for the next fourteen-odd years. I understand the desire to have one set of rules for all players, but it is high time that the USGA recognized that there is a vast difference between Tiger Woods and the guys you see on a Saturday morning who work 9-5 Monday through Friday.

For example, the NFL and the NCAA have different footballs approved for play in their respective organizations. Both are equally "good" for amateurs out playing touch in the backyard or intramural flag football beside a college dorm. In fact, those two groups of amateurs might just be playing their game with another kind of ball unapproved by either group at all. Does that detract from the competition at hand? No. Does having a youth football, which is smaller, lighter and far easier to throw further make any difference? No again.

Indeed, there are dozens of examples of differences in sporting goods unapproved for professional or serious amateur play being perfectly suited for less-skilled amateurs. Some of that gear even makes playing the sport at a higher level possible. So again, why must golf be so different?

At the end of the day, when I send out my Christmas list for the year, I guess I will ask for a new wedge or two. Might as well get the better - and cheaper - gear now before the coming price rise hits the stores.


  1. Probably like you, CB, I am a little bit of a purist when it comes to most things golf. And, I agree with the position the U.S.G.A and the tour has adapted on this issue. But...,

    I ain't buyin' nuttin' yet. Having years of golf store retail experience, I know everything NEW arrives at full retail. When phase II from the same manufacturer (Cleveland, Vokey, Ping) comes out, the prices, selection and availability are much better.

    I'll show you my putter and wedge collection to prove I am not cheap, but there is no real reason for me to jump on this yet...

  2. I just think it's funny. Here's the USGA, arguing that the technology is getting out of hand... and then they create "guidelines" that require a degree in physics just to understand, let alone compare the differences. If the real concern is the integrity of the game, why not just go back to V-grooves, give a range of measurements for depth and separation, and let it go?

    This is all about trying to have it all. Let's create a set of guidelines that allows every company to patent its own way of doing things, with the resultant ability to claim their clubs are the best; while we insure that NONE of these "best" ways can actually make any difference in how the clubs perform. After all, the goal of these new guidelines is to eliminate "spin-ability," correct? What are the companies going to use as a selling point, that their clubs spin less than anybody else's?

    Laughable. Totally laughable. But as you pointed out in another post, Charles, there's a sucker born every minute.


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