By Robert Bicknell

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March 4, 2007

Square grooves, revisited.

Ever have a feeling of Déjà vu?

When the initial news that The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the US Golf Association proposed a change that would limit the amount of spin produced by U-shaped grooves in irons, I thought I was back in the late 1980’s.

If you remember, there was a huge hue and cry about square grooves back after Mark Calcavecchia hit a Ping Eye2 iron from the rough that acted like it had air brakes when it hit the green.

The USGA began ‘serious study’ of the U-groove controversy then backed down and promised not to ban them after Karsten Solheim, founder of Ping golf clubs, launched a massive lawsuit and media blitz.

The R&A claims the newest proposal would not ban U-shaped grooves, but would set specifications so that they performed like V-shaped grooves, producing less spin, especially out of the rough and thus, restoring "the historical importance of driving accuracy in the game."

The USGA boffins claim a U-grooved 5-iron produces 7,000 RPM of spin, whereas a V-grooves only 4,000 RPM. The R&A goes on to claim that certain grooves allow the best players to get more spin, especially with the modern golf ball.

The operative words in the above paragraph are "best players."

The fact of the matter is that if you suck, you suck. U-grooves, V-grooves or even sandpaper glued to the clubface isn’t going to give you "tour spin."

So it appears to me that we are heading towards a day when professionals will have to play different clubs than amateurs and only use one brand of ball. Otherwise, you will always have this gap.

In addition, the USGA / R&A want to put a premium on driving accuracy by reducing possibilities of recovery from the rough, but at the same time have done virtually nothing to stop supercharged self-correcting golf balls and titanium drivers from making a mockery of some of the best courses in the world?

It they were really serious about preserving the "historical importance of driving accuracy", they’d go back to balata balls which don’t go as far and spin out of control when hit incorrectly.

It is obvious that the equipment makers have a firm grip on the short hairs of both USGA and R&A when it comes to equipment standards and those highly regarded organizations are reduced to passing pitiful proposals which barely affect the manufacturers.

If they are passing these changes now, you can bet that equipment makers have already discarded U-grooves for something even more exotic because there’s no way they will sit still for anything which impacts their profit margins.

This has been proven time and again through lawsuits and even threats of lawsuits.

According to the reports, John Solheim, CEO of Ping and son of the late founder, said he would have to evaluate the proposed changes and commented, "As always, it concerns us when the USGA proposes changes that could affect our ability to improve our products."

"Golfers rely on us to be innovative so they can enjoy the game more. Any time that ability is challenged, it concerns us."

Which is code for "call your lawyers and brace for round two."

The USGA claims the proposal is not a ban on U-shaped grooves, but only how they are measured, which is in fraction of inches, which is exactly what they tried to do in the past. The R&A says, "It is a matter of re-establishing a proper balance to the game and ensuring that skill remains the dominant element of success."

Oh, if that were only true!

The sad fact is that the genie has already escaped from the bottle and there is no hope of ever getting it back in there. Equipment manufacturers will continue to explore new ways of making the game easier for the average player, which at the same time allows the "best players" to hit shots beyond what mere mortals could ever dream about.

While its true that skill is more important than equipment, the almighty dollar will always reign supreme because the average golfer wants to have fun out there. He works hard all week and the last thing he wants is a set of clubs that compound his misery.




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