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What Are We Fighting For? Golfers won't support the equipment makers' misguided war against the USGA

Oct. 12, 1998
Oct. 12, 1998

Table of Contents
Oct. 12, 1998

NHL 98

What Are We Fighting For? Golfers won't support the equipment makers' misguided war against the USGA

I went out today--Oct. 1, 1998--and burned the warranty card for
my oversized titanium driver. I stood in the driveway, where the
neighborhood kids could see me, and pulled the trigger on my
grill lighter, producing a flame. "This is to send a message to
America's golf club manufacturers," I solemnly intoned, causing
a bunny to freeze at the edge of a flower bed. "I don't want
this war, and I won't fight this war!" I put the yellow flame to
the corner of the little cardboard rectangle and watched as the
card curled and blackened and dropped from my fingers to the
ground.

This is an article from the Oct. 12, 1998 issue Original Layout

So here I am: the first conscientious objector in golf's nascent
technology war. Call me a coward. Label me a Luddite. Accuse me,
if you must, of blue-blazer envy. I don't care. I'm sitting this
one out.

Who started this war? The clubmakers blame the U.S. Golf
Association and its president, Buzz Taylor, for promoting an
alteration to Rule 4-1e. This alteration, if approved, would
establish a protocol regulating the springlike effect of club
faces acting upon balls. The manufacturers claim that 4-1e,
while ostensibly designed to protect the integrity of the game,
is actually a sinister plot to stifle innovation and discourage
high-handicap golfers.

Personally, I can't listen to five minutes of this debate
without dozing off, but the clubmakers make it sound as if the
new rule were written by Willie Horton with help from the
child-pornography lobby. "Profoundly disturbing," Callaway
Golf's founder and chairman, Ely Callaway, called the protocol
in a Sept. 28 letter to the USGA, adding, "The game will lose
its appeal to all but a handful of diehards who view the game as
the private province of the privileged." So disturbed was
Callaway by this prospect that he boycotted last week's USGA
town meeting in New Jersey and joined a group of other industry
executives who have threatened lawsuits if the USGA doesn't back
down.

Is the situation so dire? No currently available clubs will be
banned if the USGA approves the protocol. No broad restrictions
will be placed on innovations, and clubmakers will still be able
to advertise their products as longer and straighter, even when
there is little evidence to support their claims. The USGA will
merely have asserted its role as the preserver and protector of
the Rules of Golf.

Forgive me if I question the industry's motives. Ely Callaway
may sincerely believe that he's taking on a snobbish elite by
challenging the USGA, but it was Callaway, not the folks from
Far Hills, who made $500 the benchmark for a titanium driver.
Similarly, John Solheim, president of Karsten Manufacturing, may
be right when he says that "no one except a few influential
members of the USGA" is demanding a limit on technology. But
those influential members are supposed to police the game.
They're not there to pimp for Ping.

No one goes to war to enrich the munitions makers; it's always
for the mother country. That explains why the equipment
companies say they're fighting for Joe Sixpack, the American
flag, soccer moms and every golfer's right to a mulligan. It's
why they get so nasty when one of their own turns dovish. When
Taylor Made broke ranks and supported the USGA at the town
meeting, a Callaway exec scornfully dismissed the current top
seller of metal woods as a company no longer interested in
innovation. "Wishful thinking," retorted Taylor Made CEO George
Montgomery.

The clubmakers' biggest conceit is that they are responsible for
the game's current popularity. They claim that
performance-enhancing technology has made the game more
rewarding for beginners and hackers, and that's why so many
people have taken up golf. Historians will probably credit the
golf boom not to bubble shafts and titanium clubheads but to
demographics (a flood of aging, prosperous baby boomers) and
social change (the impact of Tiger Woods, feminism, etc.).
Clubmakers haven't caused the boom; they have profited from it.

That's why I won't enlist in their army, and why, if drafted, I
will not serve. I admire the clubmaker's craft, the designer's
art and the marketer's savvy, but the essence of the game is not
hardware. It's software--as in grass, wind, muscle, nerves and
those little gray cells.

Let's say it together: Hell, no, we won't go! The whole golf
world is watching.

Golf Plus will next appear in the Oct. 26 issue of SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DALE STEPHANOS [Drawing of golfer burning warranty card and holding up golf club inscribed with words "HELL, NO, WE WON'T GO!!"]
Clubmakers make it sound as if the new rule were written by
Willie Horton.