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USGA, R&A Reach Agreement On Equipment Testing
by E. Michael Johnson a

The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews released details this morning concerning their agreement on limiting coefficient of restitution (COR) in golf clubs, as well as a far-ranging joint statement outlining their principles of equipment regulation. Industry leaders today expressed relief that the bodies had come to an agreement, but noted that there would be practical difficulties implementing the proposal.

The COR proposal resolves more than three years of conflict between the two governing bodies with regard to what is commonly known as the trampoline effect. Beginning Jan. 1, 2003, the COR limit on woods used by amateur golfers worldwide will be .852, with a tolerance of .008 taking the limit to .860. In competitions for "highly skilled players" the current USGA's COR limit of .830 will apply. The USGA and R&A will recommend that all events on the major professional tours use this second standard.

The USGA originally set the limit on COR in November 1998 for golf clubs with less than 15 degrees of loft at .822 (with a tolerance of .008). The R&A had declined to set a limit on COR.

Peter Dawson, the secretary of the R&A, said the .860 limit reflects where current technology stands. "To my knowledge, there has not been a driver submitted for testing that exceeds .860," he said.

Dawson also indicated that while the USGA and R&A "will invoke the rule for their respective Open championships," his organization would not be asking competitors in its amateur events to do so.

"I'm very positive that the USGA and R&A have found a compromise that recognizes the difference between the elite player and what we call the 'recreational golfer'," said Ron Drapeau, CEO of Callaway Golf. "From our perspective, [this decision is] huge for us, as a U.S. manufacturer faced with double development costs to compete here in the U.S. and in Japan against Japanese companies."

If the rule as proposed is enacted, with the COR limit rolling back to .830 in 2008, Drapeau added that "Callaway Golf will live with that."

A statement issued by Joe Nauman, senior VP and general counsel of the Acushnet Company, generally praised the proposal, especially the joint statement of principles. However, Nauman indicated that the firm had "areas of concern." He cited first the implementation of two standards and second the potential disruption of sales.

"The impact on the current U.S. market and product which conforms to the .83 limit could be dramatic," said Nauman, "disrupting product sales and causing consumer confusion." He added that similar issues would be raised as the 2008 COR rollback is approached.

In making a joint statement of principles, the USGA and R&A wanted to make clear their future approach to equipment regulation.

"Hopefully something like the COR difference between the R&A and the USGA will never happen again," said David B. Fay, executive director of the USGA, who was part of a small working group of USGA and R&A officials who spent 18 months to hammer out the deal.

Both organizations re-emphasized their stand on the proper balance between technology and skill in golf. "The purpose of the Rules [of Golf] is to protect golf's best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game," said the joint statement.

While the COR proposal does create a separate set of rules for elite players from 2003 through 2007, the statement indicated that the R&A and USGA have no current plans to create separate equipment rules for highly skilled players."

The statement also made the distance that golf balls are traveling an issue for future regulation, stating that "golf balls, when hit by highly skilled golfers, should not of themselves fly significantly further than they do today."

While promising that the USGA and R&A would update their testing procedures, the groups indicated that they will be closely monitoring distance as an issue and would respond immediately if necessary.

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