The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (“R&A”), which is the governing authority for the Rules of Golf outside of the United States of America and Mexico, has received a number of inquiries regarding its position on the “spring-like” effect issue as a result of an R&A Notice to Manufacturers dated 3rd May 2000, on this and related issues, which has found its way into the public domain. The purpose of this statement is to clarify matters, including an update on the research programme at the University of Birmingham into the club/ball impact process, an explanation of the R&A’s conclusions to-date on this issue and information on the proposed test procedure.
Firstly, it is perhaps worth clarifying that the “spring-like” effect issue concerns the proper interpretation of the Rule (Appendix II, 5a) which states:
“The material and construction of, or any treatment to, the face or clubhead shall not have the effect at impact of a spring (test on file), or impart significantly more spin to the ball than a standard steel face, or have any other effect which would unduly influence the movement of the ball.”
The Research Programme
The R&A’s programme of research, conducted by a multi-disciplinary group involving the Physics, Applied Mathematics and Advance Material Science departments at the University of Birmingham, is essentially complete. The study of the club/ball impact process involved both ultrasonic analysis and advanced mathematical modelling techniques, together with a comprehensive metallurgical study, in an effort to better quantify behaviour at impact in terms of the physical properties of the club and the ball. The research project concentrated on these issues, using available data and technical information. The successful completion of this project has provided a much greater understanding of the complex impact process. It has also yielded important information regarding club design. Most importantly, it has provided information on those aspects of modern club construction which influence the club/ball impact process in a significantly different manner when compared to traditional non-metal clubs.
The R&A’s Implements and Ball Committee has studied the research team’s findings, including an assessment of the effect of further developments in clubhead design and construction and it has been decided after long and careful consideration that regulation, in the form of a test procedure, is required.
Of principal concern, it has been determined that without any regulation in this area, performance enhancements due to equipment alone could result in golfers gaining significant increases in driving distances. Despite their short-term appeal, such distance gains are not considered to be in the best long-term interests of the game, especially when added to other factors which enable modern golfers to hit the ball further than their predecessors (such as improved physique, fitness, coaching, course preparation, etc.).
The R&A’s research programme has also indicated that much of the enhanced performance (increased driving distance), assuming good design and manufacture, is the result of flexing (due to thinning of the face, crown or sole, or some combination of these) in modern hollow metal woods. It should also be remembered that the Rules require the face of the club to be “hard and rigid” (Appendix II,5a) and that all parts of the clubhead must be “rigid” (Appendix II,4a).
Accordingly, it is proposed that by regulating the thickness of the component parts of the clubhead, a simple and effective test can be developed and implemented.
Proposed R&A Test Protocol
The principle of the proposed R&A test protocol is to place minimum thickness limits on the clubhead’s face, crown and sole. These can be measured by a commercially available, hand-held ultrasonic measurement device which when coupled to a personal computer, will produce a picture of the strata of each component at a certain location (including the thickness of the paint (or lacquer) and any pores).
The exact numerical thickness limits are the subject of continuing refinement by the research team at the University of Birmingham. This refinement work will take approximately 8 weeks, during which time all manufacturers have been invited to provide a written submission concerning this proposal (to be received by 23rd June 2000).
Once the refinement work is completed, the proposed test protocol, together with all written submissions, will be reviewed by the relevant Committees of the R&A. It is currently anticipated that a further Notice to Manufacturers will be issued in July, inviting comments on the detailed protocol (to be received by early September). An implementation date of 1st October 2000 is being considered.
The R&A is conscious that this proposed test protocol is different to that adopted by the United States Golf Association in November 1998 and mindful of the widespread support manufacturers have for uniformity in equipment regulation. These issues will be borne in mind during the continued deliberations over the coming months.
With regard to the current situation, it is perhaps worth confirming that as yet the R&A has not introduced any test and no rulings (conforming or otherwise) have been given on any submissions of hollow metal woodheads with 15 degrees of loft or less since commencing its independent research (i.e. January 1999).
The R&A is most grateful for the level of co-operation that it has received from manufacturers during the period of its research and intends to continue its policy of meaningful consultation with manufacturers on this issue.