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USGA and R&A Resolve Differences
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About the Pope Of Slope

USGA and R&A Resolve Differences

USGA and R&A Resolve Differences, , Agree to Raise COR Limit for five years
By John Gordon,

The USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews' decision to allow the "non-conforming driver" into play will be a boon for weekend duffers.
(posted May. 13, 12:25PM EDT)

The golf courses you play just got a wee bit shorter, and you never even noticed. Thanks to a compromise reached late last week by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, most so-called non-conforming drivers will be legal for play starting in 2003. The most infamous of those "illegal" drivers is the Callaway ERC II, whose paper-thin titanium face is said to provide a "spring-like" or trampoline effect which launches unsuspecting golf balls higher and farther than they have ever travelled before.

The announcement is significant because while it unites the world's two major ruling bodies, it creates a two-tiered rules system: one for the 1,000 or so players on the world's major pro tours, and one for the tens of millions of hackers like you and me.

As of Jan. 1, 2003, the R&A, which had no limitations on the coefficient of restitution (COR, or the measurement of springlike effect) will adopt the .830 guideline used in North America for the British Open. At present, no other tours have a limit on COR, but they will have the option of falling in line with the R&A, USGA, PGA Tour and Royal Canadian Golf Association. As of that same date, the COR limit worldwide will be raised to .860, allowing the ERC II and its brawny brethren to be unleashed just about anywhere in the world except on the pro circuits. The COR limit will revert back to .830 for everyone, pros and amateurs, on Jan. 1, 2008, under the current agreement, but a lot can happen in five years.

(Notably, there has been not a peep about the decision from our own Royal Canadian Golf Association, which got its gray-flannelled butt sued by Callaway a couple of years back when it jumped the gun and ruled the original ERC illegal prior to any announcement by the USGA.)

Will this decision make a difference for you and me? Perhaps, although Frank Thomas, who was the USGA's technical director for years, says even a pro would average only 15 more yards per drive if all restrictions were removed from drivers and balls. Average players would gain perhaps six. Do the math. If you hit the driver a dozen times per round, you're only gaining about 70 yards in total.

In compromising with the older and wiser R&A, which at no time outlawed any drivers, the USGA finally acknowledged what most of us had already realized: Length, as in many things in life, is greatly overrated.

While we may hit the ball farther, most of us are playing from tees that are too long, raising our scores, exacerbating the slow play plague, and forcing architects and developers to design, build and maintain courses that are up to 1,000 yards longer than we really need.

Florida course architect Bill Amick, in an effort to amend current thinking about course design, has made a study of just how far mid- and high-handicappers hit the ball with each club. His observations, combined with a Golf Digest study that concluded that 90 per cent of golfers will never break 100, should serve as a wake-up call for the golf industry - an industry under siege, wrestling with the spectre of declining rounds because golf is becoming too expensive and too time-consuming.

Among Amick's determinations are that for most amateurs, "reaching the green in regulation can be practically impossible on medium-length and long par 4s." He found that the average male amateur's drive is 212 yards of combined carry and roll, while the average woman's is 184 yards.

Extrapolating from that data, Amick suggests the following maximum distances for holes for average male amateurs - par 3s, 185 yards; par 4s, 397 yards; par 5s, 551 yards. For women: par 3s, 142 yards; par 4s, 303 yards; par 5s, 407 yards

Before you protest, note that Amick also concludes that most golfers think they hit the ball farther than they actually do, with or without a hot driver. If you want a solution to slow play, that's a large part of the secret: Move up one tee deck and play the course appropriate to your ability.

The game played by Tiger Woods and his pals holds little relation to the game played by me and mine. If there are to be two sets of rules, so be it. I promise not to challenge him in the U.S. Open if he vows not to show up for my club championship.

Kudos to the golf associations for agreeing to permit amateurs to use the Callaway ERC II and the rest of the non-conforming clubs. Would it be so bad if, as an outcome of technology, golf became an easier game to play? More people might take it up and more might remain in the game. If they can hit if farther and straighter, and from the right set of tees, a round might be more fun and take less time.

Last week's decision is an endorsement of the late Ely Callaway's imaginary Rule 35 (there are only 34 real Rules of Golf): "Have fun!" The regrettable aspect of the USGA-R&A decision is that it came almost a year after his death. That, I guess, is the difference between a visionary and bureaucrats, but maybe last week's announcement is a hint that things are changing in golf's ivory towers.

Note from the Pope of Slope: Most importantly, I am happy to see that amateur golfers that choose to use the high COR drivers can post their scores for USGA Handicap purposes, as they should have been able to do all along (and most did anyway), during this regrettable period.

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