During the closing days of 2001 the USGA suggested rule changes
regarding balls and clubs that will unfairly limit the equipment
choices available to golfers. On the ball front, the USGA plans
to revise the Overall Distance Standard (ODS) test protocol and
criteria that have been in effect since 1976. The USGA says
updates are necessary, even though no ball designed for or
played by Tour pros exceeds the current ODS limit. Further, the
USGA has shown no concrete evidence that the game has been
harmed by advances in ball technology.
The proposed rule regarding clubs is even more foreboding. The
USGA intends to limit the size of a clubhead to 385 cubic
centimeters and the length of a shaft to 47 inches (except for
putters). The 385 cc restriction is arbitrary and fails to take
into consideration that drivers exceeding this size are either
already on the market or about to be introduced. Limiting
large-headed drivers is most likely to impact recreational
golfers, who favor the more forgiving clubs, not the Tour pros
the USGA continually cites as the excuse for its increasingly
The USGA acts as if improved technology is going to make the game
so easy that the average player will lose interest. The truth is,
despite better technology, participation is flat, rounds played
are down, and the golf industry is mired in the same recession as
the rest of the U.S.
The timing of the proposed rule changes (which could take effect
as early as this year), the absence of any dialogue before they
were announced, and giving the industry only two months to
present objections prove that the patricians of the USGA aren't
making decisions for the good of the game. Rather, they're making
important decisions without meaningful give-and-take between the
rulers and those who are trying to play by the rules.
Uihlein, 52, is the CEO of the Acushnet Company, which owns
Cobra, FootJoy, Pinnacle and Titleist.