The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (the “R&A”) and the United States Golf Association (the “USGA”) have reached an accord on golf equipment rules, which will restore uniformity to the game worldwide and help ensure the maintenance of uniformity in the future. This accord includes a set of written principles which will provide a framework to be followed by both governing bodies when proposing new equipment rules in the United States and its territories (USGA) and the rest of the world (R&A), along with a joint proposal to develop a uniform standard for ‘spring-like’ effect in driving clubs.
Statement of Principles
Published at the foot of this story is a joint statement of principles which will guide the R&A and the USGA in formulating equipment rules both now and in the future. The last time such a statement was published by the two organisations was in 1952 at a time when no formal mechanism for co-ordinating the respective views was in place and, as a result, there were a number of differences between the individual codes.
This statement demonstrates a joint commitment to improve further the existing consultative processes between the two bodies, to ensure that all parties communicate fully and expeditiously and to ensure consistency of equipment rules around the globe.
The R&A and the USGA have also reached an agreement on a proposal that will apply identical standards worldwide to regulate the ‘spring-like’ effect of driving clubs. A difference has existed between the two organisations since 1998 when the USGA instituted a ‘spring-like’ effect test while the R&A refrained from doing so. The USGA’s test procedure measured the coefficient of restitution (COR) of a driving club and the limit was set at 0.830 COR
The proposal, which is subject to the two organisations’ customary notice-and-comment processes for equipment rules and their independent review, contains four points:
From January 1, 2003 until December 31, 2007, the Rules of Golf worldwide will be changed to include a conformance test with a COR limit of 0.860 (i.e. the R&A will introduce a limit for the first time and the USGA will increase its current limit from 0.830 to 0.860).
From January 1, 2008 onwards, the Rules of Golf worldwide will be changed, reducing the test’s COR limit to 0.830 (i.e. the current USGA limit).
From January 1, 2003 until December 31, 2007 a Condition of Competition, targeted at competitions for highly skilled players, will be introduced enabling the Committee in charge of the competition to apply a limit of 0.830 COR. The R&A and the USGA will introduce this Condition of Competition at their respective Open Championships in 2003 and beyond and will recommend its introduction for all events on the major Professional Tours.
Initially, the test method to be used will be the same COR test as currently employed by the USGA. However, efforts are being made by both organisations to design a new simpler test as soon as possible.
This proposal is the result of extended discussions between representatives of the R&A and the USGA and seeks to resolve a difficult situation in a way that is best for the game of golf and is fair and reasonable to all parties, including manufacturers of golf equipment and golfers who have purchased high COR drivers.
Comments from the Governing Bodies
“Golf is an international game, particularly at the elite level, and needs a uniform set of equipment rules,” said Peter Dawson, Secretary of the R&A. “A return to uniformity, which this ‘spring-like’ effect proposal seeks to achieve, is in golf’s best interests while the joint statement of principles provides an important framework for future equipment regulation.”
“The USGA and the R&A have worked closely together for more than a century in writing the Rules of Golf,” USGA President Reed Mackenzie said. “It is helpful for any organisation to re-examine its approach to one of its core functions and at this time, we thought it made sense to ensure closer collaboration and formulate equipment rules that are uniform worldwide. The joint principles we announce here, coupled with our joint proposal regarding ‘spring-like’ effect, should help ensure that we achieve our goals of writing understandable and consistent worldwide equipment rules.”
Update on Other Equipment Issues
The R&A and the USGA continue to examine numerous comments that each organisation has received regarding proposals made earlier this year to update the golf ball test procedures, as well as proposals to introduce new limits on the size of clubheads and the length of clubs. At this time, no decisions have been taken on these issues and work on these three proposals is on-going.
Joint Statement Of Principles
As the governing authorities for the Rules of Golf including equipment Rules, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (the “R&A”) and the United States Golf Association (the “USGA”) have continued to monitor closely the effects of advancing equipment technology on the playing of the game. The R&A and the USGA are also aware that this subject has attracted wide-ranging comment and a number of conflicting views. History has proved that it is impossible to foresee the developments in golf equipment which advancing technology will deliver. It is of the greatest importance to golf’s continuing appeal that such advances are judged against a clear and broadly accepted series of principles.
The purpose of this statement is to set out the joint views of the R&A and the USGA, together with the framework of key principles and policies which guides their actions.
In an historical context, the game has seen progressive developments in the clubs and balls available to golfers who, through almost six centuries, have sought to improve their playing performance and enjoyment.
While generally welcoming this progress, the R&A and the USGA will remain vigilant when considering equipment Rules. The purpose of the Rules is to protect golf’s best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game.
The R&A and USGA continue to believe that the retention of a single set of rules for all players of the game, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths. The R&A and USGA regard the prospect of having permanent separate rules for elite competition as undesirable and have no current plans to create separate equipment rules for highly skilled players.
Golf balls used by the vast majority of highly skilled players today have largely reached the performance limits for initial velocity and overall distance which have been part of the Rules since 1976. The governing bodies believe that golf balls, when hit by highly skilled golfers, should not of themselves fly significantly further than they do today. In the current circumstances, the R&A and the USGA are not advocating that the Rules relating to golf ball specifications be changed other than to modernise test methods.
The R&A and the USGA believe, however, that any further significant increases in hitting distances at the highest level are undesirable. Whether these increases in distance emanate from advancing equipment technology, greater athleticism of players, improved player coaching, golf course conditioning or a combination of these or other factors, they will have the impact of seriously reducing the challenge of the game. The consequential lengthening or toughening of courses would be costly or impossible and would have a negative effect on increasingly important environmental and ecological issues. Pace of play would be slowed and playing costs would increase.
The R&A and the USGA will consider all of these factors contributing to distance on a regular basis. Should such a situation of meaningful increases in distances arise, the R&A and the USGA would feel it immediately necessary to seek ways of protecting the game.
In determining any future amendments to the Rules, or to associated procedures which may from time to time prove necessary, the R&A and the USGA will continue their respective policies of consultation with interested parties, including the use of notice and comment procedures, and will take account of the views expressed. The achievement and maintenance of worldwide uniformity in equipment rules through close co-ordination between the R&A and the USGA is a clear priority.
The R&A and the USGA are concerned that, on an increasing number of occasions, new products are being developed and marketed which potentially run counter to the principles expressed in this statement. These product launches, without prior consultation with the governing bodies, can lead to considerable difficulties in formulating appropriate equipment rules and to undesirable conflicts between manufacturers and rule makers. The R&A and the USGA intend to bring forward proposals designed to improve procedures for the approval of new products.
The R&A and the USGA believe that the principles stated in this document will, when carefully applied, serve the best interests of the game of golf.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club www.RandA.org