Reply from USGA
January 19, 2001
On Reed Mackenzie's USGA stationery
Thank you for your letter of January 18, 2001. Kevin shared with me your earlier letter, so I have been aware of your views. I think that it is fair to say that I disagree with most of the thoughts you express. While I do not believe I am likely to change your strongly held views, I will nevertheless highlight my views on the subject.
I was on the Executive Committee in 1993 and voted with everyone else in favor of the "principles of the Rules" plan developed primarily by Judy and MJ. The impetus for the discussion was distance-measuring devices, a matter about which there was some ambivalence among USGA groups. The I & B staff supported changing the Rule to allow such devices; a narrow majority of the Rules committee felt electronic
distance measuring devices should continue to be a violation. One factor that led to approval of the "principles of the Rules" doctrine was the fact that we believed most of the distance measuring devices in use were permanently attached to golf carts so that it would be difficult for someone wanting to try to avoid getting distance information to do so.
As things have developed, the 1993 Bell-Mastalir compromise has proved to be a bad decision. Electronic distance measuring has flourished, especially in the individual, hand held devices. The golfer using a hand held device has to make a clear election to use one. the "principles of the Rules" language has permitted manufacturers to argue, in effect, it is not really against the Rules to use these gadgets. The result has been an erosion of knowledge and respect for the Rules, even among people who are dedicated to trying to adhere to them. I can't tell you how many people are shocked, even at Rules workshops, to learn electronic distance measuring is a violation. Rules and principles of the Rules cannot be different. You are either within the Rules or you are not.
The last time I looked, the USGA charter defined one of our core functions as "to adopt, enforce and interpret rules for the playing of the game of Golf". The charter says nothing about the handicap system. While I recognize that USGA involvement in development and maintenance of a handicap system has become a major USGA activity, it should not and cannot be at the expense of respect for the Rules. If we need to compromise teaching respect for and conformance with the Rules in order to support the handicap system, we ought to get out of the handicap business tomorrow.
It is with that in mind that I have asked Kevin and Jeff Hall to work together to tighten the concept of the "principles of the Rules of Golf" so that there is less opportunity for confusion by the golfing public about the Rules. While there may be a need to accept some scores where the Rules have not been followed, that subset should be narrower than at present. I think part of the problem is that the Rules and Handicap staffs have worked independently at many times when coordinated discussion would have been preferable.
With respect to the two specific issues you raise, there is no handicap meeting in New York concerning either item. For the time being at least, scores made with distance measuring devices will still be accepted.
As to non-conforming equipment, I suggest your memory is incomplete. At least since the time of the Polara ball, and probably before, our policy has been not to accept scores made with non-conforming equipment for handicap purposes. The Rules of Golf do not just provide a penalty for the use of non-conforming equipment, they provide for disqualification. In the case of a non-conforming club, the penalty of disqualification is applied even for carrying such a club. To say that we would allow that rounds played with non-conforming equipment are within "the principles of the Rules of Golf" would be ludicrous.
The fact that certain clubs in San Diego are allowing the use of non-conforming clubs is disappointing, but it should not cause the USGA to roll over and compromise its principles, anymore than it would if we learned that clubs were allowing players to repair spike marks or take a one-stroke penalty for a ball lost or out of bounds. You will no doubt recall the actions of a golf association in Ohio, which did not agree with the spike mark rule. Just as the USGA did there, our job should be to try to educate golfers about the Rules and encourage them to follow the Rules.
Concerning the merits of the USGA decision on spring-like effect in drivers. I am prepared to defend that decision fully. While the R & A is getting great press for having reached its decision after a thoughtful process, that is less a reflection of the merits of the decision making process than the fact that we need to do a better job of public relations in defending our position. It would be useful for your friends in San Diego to know that, in most cases, their chances of getting more than a yard or two advantage once in every 7 or 8 swings from their non-conforming clubs is small. The chances of a skilled player swinging at a clubhead speed at or in excess of our test speed of 109 m.p.h. and striking the "sweet spot" with consistency gaining significant distance advantage are hugely better. While the R & A is betting, at least in the published justifications for their ruling, that the performance of drivers cannot be substantially changed for the average or skilled player, we do not agree. Further, to wait to see if something better comes along without a standard in effect seems to us to be the wrong way to make rules and decisions on equipment.
As always, I appreciate hearing your views. Just as I hope the R & A will come to its senses, I hope your love and respect for the game will eventually get you back on the right track. I look forward to seeing you in New York City.
Very truly yours,
Reed K. Mackenzie
cc: Trey Holland, David Fay, Kevin O'Connor, Judy Bell