2005: Our Opinion - Rulesmakers go the distance

Monday, September 19, 2011

This is the way the rules process is supposed to work.

When the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews soon announce that distance-measuring devices have been elevated to a “condition of competition” – meaning that tournaments have a choice of whether to allow their use by competitors – it will be a declaration of common sense.

Laser guns and other distance-measuring devices can speed play. They can eliminate haphazard and potentially time-consuming searches for sprinkler heads or other markers that reveal distances.

Faster golf has been the No. 1 argument for this rules change. Another piece of evidence, though, also helped turn the minds of the rulesmakers: Yardages are widely available to all players, through caddies and yardage books and on-course markers.

It’s not as though any golfer will gain an advantage by knowing an exact yardage, and the rulesmakers finally acknowledged this.

There is no reason to expect that professional golf tours or major amateur events will permit the use of distance-measuring devices, but the impact of this rule change on local and club tournaments could be substantial. Saving 15 minutes in a round of golf is a big deal, and distance-measuring devices – commonly called range finders – are a step in the right direction.

Although the USGA and R&A cannot escape the turmoil surrounding technology and how it affects golf equipment rules and standards, the two bodies deserve a break and a gold star for this decision. In particular, Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A, performed an admirable turnabout on the issue. For the R&A to join with the USGA in this decision, Dawson – who had been adamantly opposed to the use of distance-measuring devices – capitulated for the greater good. He may not like the devices, but he realizes that precise distance has become an undeniable part of modern golf.

Alliance a good start

Meanwhile, the USGA also deserves kudos for its recently announced alliance with the American Junior Golf Association. The organizations have formed the USGA/AJGA Youth Leadership Club, whereby AJGA members can “give back to the game” by volunteering with programs supported by the USGA Grants Initiative. For its part, the USGA annually will provide four interns who will learn about golf administration at AJGA headquarters in Braselton, Ga.

The alliance could be made more meaningful if it were extended to the competition arena. Talented juniors who may not have the financial means to join the AJGA could be identified via programs supported by USGA grants and provided with the means to compete on the AJGA circuit. In addition, an AJGA points system could be devised whereby members could earn exemptions into the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

Under that scenario, the AJGA – often criticized as an elitist circuit – could add diversity to its ranks, and the U.S. Juniors, which currently exempt only a handful of players who have had exceptional performances in USGA events, would be assured of having consistently strong and geographically representative fields.

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