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USGA and R&A Resolve Differences
COR Ruling Took Unexpected Turn
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About the Pope Of Slope

How the COR ruling took an unexpected turn
What happened?

Golf World, August 16, 2002

When the USGA and the R&A announced Aug. 6 that the limit on coefficient of restitution in drivers would remain at .830 (instead of rising to .860) in the U.S., it sent shock waves throughout the equipment industry and left thousands of recreational golfers stuck with a nonconforming club in their lockers.

Ever since the USGA and R&A issued a joint proposal on May 9, it had been widely assumed both within the industry and among the golfing public that the proposal -- which would have upped the COR limit in the U.S. to .860 for a period of five years starting Jan. 1, 2003 -- would become rule after the USGA's notice-and-comment period ended July 15.

Optimism was so unabated TaylorMade and Adams Golf sped up introductions of high-COR drivers, while Callaway, which had been selling its nonconforming ERC II driver in the U.S. since late 2000, upped its marketing efforts on the club. Other manufacturers, too, readied high-COR drivers for launch upon the implementation of the rule. Golf World estimates based on industry information indicate between 20,000 and 30,000 hot drivers were sold in the U.S. after May 9. It was, after all, just a formality -- or so it was thought.

What happened? According to David Fay, executive director of the USGA, it was a matter of letting the process run its course. "Some people will choose to look at this as a reversal in our position," said Fay. "But I look at it as the system doing what it is supposed to do. The notice-and-comment period is designed to allow anyone the opportunity to provide feedback and be heard. After the USGA and the R&A looked at that feedback, it was clear there were some concerns we felt a need to address." Chief among those concerns was the number of amateur golfers the rule would affect in the short-term (including a large number of players using hot drivers outside the United States), the inability to test for those clubs and the potential confusion over the exact definition of "highly skilled players."

"We are not worrying about limiting COR immediately outside of the United States specifically because of play in Asia," said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A. "[In Asia], many drivers are used with unknown COR. [Those drivers] cannot be tested and approved to our standards. Therefore, we have left ourselves a five-year period to establish on-site COR testing." According to Fay, once the R&A moved off the .860 limit, reaching an agreement was relatively simple.

"We never wanted to go to .860 in the first place but were prepared to do so as part of a compromise to achieve unanimity of the rules," said Fay. "Once the R&A said they weren't going to introduce .86, there was absolutely no need for us to go to .86. So we both went back to the proverbial blackboard and came up with a cleaner way of doing things that reflected many of the comments we had received."

Under the proposal, the USGA would have allowed drivers with a COR up to .860 beginning Jan. 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2007. The R&A, which has no COR limit, would have set a limit of .860 starting next January as well. However, competitions involving "highly skilled golfers" -- a group never defined or explained -- would be governed by a COR limit of .830. Bewildering? After further review, the golf industry and the two governing bodies apparently thought so.

"We knew it was a confusing step," said Fay. "And those were the comments we were getting." Fay said the USGA received approximately 100 formal comments from manufacturers, various state and regional golf associations, golf professionals and individuals that helped shape the new rule. Many, he said, cited confusion and the rapid implementation date as the sticking points.

The solution is a rule with the .830 limit remaining within USGA jurisdiction (the U.S. and Mexico), and no COR limit on drivers where R&A rules govern play. The U.S. Open, the British Open and presumably all professional foreign tours will adopt the .830 limit next year, and the .830 limit will go into effect for all golfers worldwide in 2008. Under the new rule, determining a definition of "highly skilled players" is no longer required.

According to Fay, the final resolution was reached in a relatively brief period of time after the R&A indicated a desire to move off the .860 limit. Although in the U.S. during the week of the British Open, Fay and Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA's Implements and Ball Committee, communicated with Dawson via phone, e-mail and fax during Open week and worked out details of the agreement. Fine-tuning of the rule and settling on exact language, said Fay, took place the following week.

Reaction from manufacturers and retailers was mixed. Some applauded the USGA and R&A for not being rigid. Others questioned the wisdom behind altering a rule so greatly from the proposal.

"A move up to .860 and then back to .830 [would have brought] difficulty, uncertainty and instability to the marketplace," said Joe Naumann, senior VP and general counsel for the Acushnet Company. "That pain would not have supported the gain of getting the USGA and R&A on the same page."

Ron Drapeau, chairman and CEO of Callaway Golf, however, believed that such a departure from the original proposal deserved more discussion prior to implementation. "There was a proposed compromise with a set of conditions and a request for comment," said Drapeau. "But a decision has been made to implement a different set of conditions than was proposed and no one has had the opportunity to comment on the second set of conditions."

Callaway has said it will take back any ERC II drivers purchased in the U.S. after May 9 in exchange for one of its current conforming drivers. Callaway is also bringing to market a USGA-conform77ing Great Big Bertha II, although it will not be offered in trade for the ERC II.

TaylorMade, which says it will now market a conforming version of its R500 drivers in the U.S., has said it will exchange any nonconforming R500 for a conforming model once the new versions hits stores in about six weeks. Such concessions did little to soothe the anger of Edwin Watts, co-owner of Edwin Watts Golf, towards the USGA. "They're self-appointed dictators," said Watts, whose chain of stores sold "several thousand" nonconforming drivers since May 9. "They've put the golf industry in disarray. They're supposed to be for the masses, but they seem to have forgotten about that. They used this as an opportunity to show their power."

Leigh Bader, co-owner of Joe & Leigh's Discount Golf Pro Shop in South Easton, Mass., however, dismissed such talk. "What happened was that a tree fell in the woods," said Bader. "Not many people heard it, but it fell on a couple of [manufacturers]. Most consumers didn't know what the whole COR thing was about. Now even fewer will care." -- E. Michael Johnson

Letter to the editor, Golf World, August 16, 2002 If the USGA thinks there should be only one set of rules worldwide, I think I have the perfect solution. Since the R&A has been around a lot longer than the USGA, why don't we all just follow the R&A set of rules? Most of the rest of the world seems to think that way. When I see "USGA", I think of stuffed shirts at exclusive country clubs. When I see "R&A", I think of an organization that uses common sense when making decisions. The USGA wants to change rules because of the tremendous skills of a couple hundred pro golfers. How about the millions of other golfers who just want to enjoy hitting aball into a hole? Bruce A. Urton, Canton, Ill.

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