The Groove Roll-back:Challenges of a Rushed Conversion
New Groove Rule Chronology
When the USGA and the R&A issued its joint Statement of Principles in May 2002, they emphasized that the purpose of the Rules is "to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill and to ensure that skill is the dominant element in determining success throughout the game."
- USGA/R&A issue notice regarding spin generation research on 3/30/05
- No specific mention of grooves
- USGA/R&A conduct research with players and machines to study how spin is generated
- Issued reports on 8/06, 1/07, 7/07
- Reports focus on spin differences based on loft, groove type and turf
- USGA/R&A issue proposal 2/27/07 to add limits to groove volume and edge angle to the existing groove limitations for irons and wedges with the following Implementation Schedule:
- Rule effective 1/1/08
- Condition of Competition for Elite (Tour) Play 1/1/09
- Other events could waive Condition for clubs made before 1/1/10
- Waiver could be for 10 years or more
- USGA/R&A adopt new rule 8/5/08 which restricts allowable groove volume and edge angle. Both restrictions are relaxed slightly from proposal and apply to clubs with 25º of loft or higher. Implementation Schedule changes as follows:
- Rule Effective 1/1/10
- Condition of Competition for Elite (Tour) Play 1/1/10
- Condition of Competition for highly skilled competitions 1/1/14
- Other events could waive Condition for clubs made prior to 1/1/10
- Waiver good until at least 1/1/24 (to be determined after 2020)
- On 12/4/09, USGA/R&A issue clarification regarding clubs made prior to 1/1/10
- Now means club heads finished before 1/1/10 and club assembled and shipped by manufacturer before 1/1/11
- On 2/25/09, USGA/R&A send request to reconsider 12/04/09 decision
- Request to remove requirement that heads be finished by 1/1/10
- Based on some manufacturers citing inventory planning concerns in current economic climate
- On 3/24/09, USGA/R&A issue notice removing “heads finished before 1/1/10” requirement. Now all clubs are required to be finished, assembled and sold before 1/1/11
The timing of the new groove implementation is staggered as follows:
- A Condition of Competition, requiring usage of the new grooves in irons and wedges, will be added to the Rules of Golf effective 1/1/10.
- The Condition of Competition may be adopted for all Tour competitions conducted after 1/1/10.
- The USGA has stated that the Condition of Competition will be adopted for the U.S. Opens and their qualifiers conducted after 1/1/10. The R&A has adopted it for the Open Championships, but not for certain of its qualifiers.
- Manufacturers may produce and ship clubs with currently conforming grooves prior to 1/1/11.
- Other USGA/R&A Championships will apply the Condition of Competition beginning 1/1/14.
- Tournament Committees at the regional, state, and local club level may adopt the Condition of Competition to require the use of clubs that conform to the new groove rule at any time.
- Currently conforming clubs produced and shipped by manufacturers prior to 1/1/11 may continue to be played for all rounds of golf and for handicap purposes, where the Condition of Competition is not in effect, until 2024.
- The final decision regarding the status of these clubs will be reviewed no sooner than 2020. If the USGA/R&A determine at that time (or later) that the rule change should apply to all clubs, there would be a minimum 4-year implementation period.
The amended regulations covering grooves on clubs include two new provisions. The first reduces the maximum groove volume by about 25% from what is currently allowed. This new restriction is technically described as the total cross-sectional area of a groove divided by the groove pitch (width plus separation) limited to 0.0030 square inches per inch.
The second new provision limits the groove edge sharpness to a minimum radius of .010 inches. There is currently no numerical minimum for edge radius in the rules. The new limit will produce groove edges that are substantially duller than allowed by the current manual test.
The objective of these changes is to limit the effectiveness of shots from the rough approximating the effectiveness of a traditional V-groove design, without mandating the use of V-grooves. Existing limits on groove width, depth and spacing will remain in effect.
Proposed New Groove
A Titleist R&D team conducted research with PGA Tour players at Titleist’s Oceanside Test Facility in California and at 2009 PGA Tour events to measure performance differences between wedges with current and proposed new grooves. Studies were conducted with Full and Partial Swings (50-yard pitch) from the rough with 56º and 60º Vokey Design Spin Milled wedges vs. prototype wedges with proposed grooves.
- Many players underestimated the magnitude of the groove change
- The breadth of the change includes Spin Rate, Launch Angle and Roll Out
- Players are NOT impacted equitably
Spin Rate Results
Launch Angle Results
Roll Out Results (how much the ball rolls out after it lands on the green):
Consistent with the findings contained within the USGA published studies of January 2007 and July 2007, our research confirmed that all players will be significantly impacted by the reduction of spin, higher launch angle and more roll out from full shots and 50-yard pitch shots from the rough.
- Spin rate is reduced by 30 to 50%
- Launch angle increases 7-20% or up to 5º higher
- Roll out of the ball after impact on the green is 9 to 15 feet more
The Prejudice of Roll-back
As important, all players are not affected equally. A player’s club head speed and technique, whether spin or trajectory-biased, and whether mechanical or feel-biased, will determine how much of an adjustment he or she will be required to make.
Tour Players with certain characteristics will be impacted more than others.
- The new groove regulations, while impacting all, favor certain players over others.
- Players who do not generate high club head speed will be affected more.
- Players with a Spin-biased technique (rather than Trajectory-biased) will need to make more swing adjustments to compensate for the groove changes.
- Players with a Mechanical technique (rather than a Feel technique) will need to make more swing adjustments to compensate for the groove changes.
- The time required for these players to adjust to the new grooves places them at a competitive disadvantage.
PGA Tour implementation is also a major issue with the burden falling on the players and the equipment manufacturers, rather than the regulatory bodies or the PGA Tour itself. The time and resources required to convert players to wedges with proposed new grooves to be prepared for the 1/1/10 Condition of Competition adoption is a serious challenge. Most Tour players have not yet even hit a wedge with the proposed new grooves, let alone started to reassess their game. Of course, this challenge is further compounded as each of the other worldwide professional tours adopts the Condition of Competition.
Conversion will NOT be seamless. The players will shoulder the burden of this iterative process.
- Players will first need to test prototype wedges with new grooves with their equipment manufacturer. (Player and R&D time)
- Players will provide feedback to their equipment manufacturer that will likely result in modifications and revised prototype wedges to test. (More R&D time)
- Players will then need to re-test new prototype wedges. (More Player and R&D time)
- Same process as above will take place for players whose current irons do not have the new grooves. (More Player & R&D time)
- Once players begin practicing with the new groove wedges (and irons if they do not currently have the new grooves), they will need to start making adjustments to their technique to help mitigate the loss of performance. (More Player time)
- Players will also need to consider their course strategy for all of the courses on their schedule as a 30 to 50% reduction in spin is a significant change. (More Player time)
- Next consider that this process may prompt players to look at other equipment changes such as their golf ball* (asking to test alternative golf ball models or potential new golf ball designs), their driver and their set composition. (More Player and R&D time)
- Many Tour players are serviced by multiple equipment manufacturers and any requested testing or changes requires them to work with different R&D teams. (More Player time)
- Any change to the players’ equipment (whether it be the wedges, irons, ball, driver, set comp) starts the iterative shake down cycle over again. (More Player and R&D time)
- Players’ availability will pose serious issues for manufacturers, particularly those companies who service many staff players.
- Consider this process for the 1,500+ players competing on the worldwide professional tours.
- For players, this is an aggressive schedule to be tournament ready by 1/1/2010.
*Golf Ball Design: NO player should expect a golf ball change to be the panacea for the significant performance loss with the proposed new grooves. If a golf ball design change adds spin for shots out of the rough, spin will be increased on ALL shots. For a 10% increase in spin, players must be prepared for a 5 to 10 yard loss of distance off the tee. For a 30% increase in spin, consider up to a 15 to 20 yard distance loss. The golf ball will not offset a 30-50% spin rate reduction without an even more significant loss of distance. In addition to the distance loss off the tee, shots into the green will be similarly affected. Higher spinning golf balls will also be more susceptible to wind resulting in a less controlled flight.
Not Just a Tour Issue
The adoption of the Condition of Competition will extend beyond the worldwide professional tours to all USGA Men’s, Women’s and Senior Opens and their qualifiers. This places a costly financial burden on the thousands of entrants to all of these championships (projected 9,000+ entrants for the USGA 2010 Open Championship alone), as they will be forced to purchase new wedges and potentially new sets of irons if they intend to attempt to qualify.
This also means that golf retailers will need to stock irons and wedges with current groove specifications (that most golfers can continue to use until 2024) AND irons and wedges with new grooves for those players competing in Condition of Competition events. Early indication from golf retailers is that there is limited interest in stocking a separate and distinct Condition of Competition product range from all manufacturers.
There is also the burden of compliance that will fall upon the organizations and associations who are responsible for rules enforcement at the qualifiers. Since there is no universal icon that manufacturers will use to distinguish proposed new grooves, there will likely be confusion among golfers (ie. all U.S. Open qualifiers, players competing in pre-qualifiers and Monday qualifiers at Tour events, non-Tour players who have qualified for The Open Championship, etc.). The U.S. State and Regional Golf Associations are put in the position of on-site enforcement. Will they need portable devices to measure grooves for any compliance issues? This device, along with trained personnel, would be required at the 60+ qualifying sites. These portable devices are not yet available for purchase by equipment manufacturers, so the level of technical proficiency and training required for operation is not fully understood.
- Beyond the financial impact of new equipment (during a tough economic climate), where will non-Tour Open entrants purchase their Condition of Competition spec product if golf retailers have no or limited interest in stocking?
- How much more inventory will golf retailers carry to service their members and customers?
- Who will pay for the groove measuring portable devices and training? The State and Regional Golf Associations who use golfer dues for operation? The non-Tour Open qualifiers?
A Period of Bifurcation
Implementing a “Condition of Competition” conversion in 2010 (rather than in 2011 in synchronization with when the manufacturers are required to start shipping products with the new grooves) will open up a Pandora’s Box for the entire industry, ranging from the governing bodies, worldwide professional tours, elite players, State and Regional Golf Associations, PGA Golf Professionals, golf retailers and equipment manufacturers. There will be confusion, added cost, implementation challenges and of course, a period of time where we play by two sets of rules.
Research highlights with 1,127 amateur golfers with handicaps of 10 and under conducted on 3/31/09 on proposed new grooves (database from Titleist.com registrants):
- 67% are somewhat or not at all familiar with the new grooves. There will be confusion.
- 63% will use current grooves for all tournaments and rounds if the Condition of Competition is not implemented for the tournaments in which they compete.
- While 62% of these golfers want to play the same grooves that are used by players on tour, they do not want to be at a competitive disadvantage vs. their playing partners. There will be bifurcation between what the world’s best players use and the amateur game.
- 34% of golfers will use wedges with new grooves for tournaments if the Condition of Competition is implemented for the events in which they compete, and use current grooves for all other rounds of golf.
- If the Condition of Competition is implemented for the events in which they compete, 55% anticipate buying one or more wedges with the new grooves by 12/31/10. Golfers expect that these products will be available at retail.
The Impact of Implementing the Condition of Competition in 2010
We believe that alignment of the adoption of the Condition of Competition and the manufacturer sell by date of 1/1/11 allows for a thoughtful, orderly and comprehensive implementation of the new grooves for all parties. It also eliminates the unprecedented disconnect between the equipment that the Tours are using and the equipment consumers have available in the market place. The U.S. PGA Tour’s decision to implement the Condition of Competition on 1/1/10 hits the golf industry during the most tumultuous time in recent history. The global recession, golfers’ reduced discretionary income, declining revenue per round at the facility level, non-renewal of tournament sponsorships, contraction of corporate spending on golf, and retail uncertainty have all taken their toll on the industry. Implementing the Condition of Competition by 1/1/10 adds more chaos and financial pressure to an already stressed industry. Non-alignment of dates is not in the best interest of the game of golf and all of its constituencies.
What is the impact of adopting the Condition of Competition in 2010?
- Tour player time and game adjustments in a compressed time frame
- Inequitable impact on tour players
- Equipment manufacturer time and resources
- Cost and confusion for non-Tour player U.S. Open qualifiers and pre-qualifiers and Monday qualifiers for Tour events
- Manufacturers/golf retailers need to supply/stock two specifications of product
- Cost and compliance enforcement for U.S. State and Regional State Golf Associations
- Impact on PGA Home Professionals (educating on product, learning/teaching new technique)
- Golfer confusion
- A period of two sets of rules creating a disconnect between what the best players in the game use and the market
Now that the U.S. PGA Tour has voted to continue with a January 1, 2010 adoption (and we expect all professional tours to follow their lead), Titleist will, as promised all along, make the effort to service all worldwide professional players as best we can. Our irons currently conform to the new rule and we will begin distribution of new wedge product to the professional tours shortly. However, the decision to adopt the Condition of Competition effective January 1, 2010 does not diminish or alter the significant challenges.
Top of Page