The USGA has sent a clear message that new grooves for wedges and irons will be constructed precisely as the USGA envisions, with no wiggle room for the ingenuity and resourcefulness so commonly exhibited by manufacturers.
In a letter dated Aug. 27 (the USGA meant July 27), the ruling body informed manufacturers that two stipulations will be added for clarification of the grooves rules that take effect Jan. 1 on major professional tours worldwide (2014 for “elite” amateur events).
The stipulations focus on “plain” construction of groove walls and the base between these walls. Prohibited are indentations, protrusions, bends, cross-sections and other “features that might circumvent the intent of the new groove specifications.”
Phil Mickelson, for example, had intended to play a set of Callaway prototype irons with new grooves at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. However, two weeks earlier the USGA declared the grooves to be nonconforming under the new rules.
Although the USGA will not comment on individual companies or clubs, the ruling body quickly sent its letter of explanation to manufacturers.
“How are we supposed to know what conforms or doesn’t if they keep changing the criteria?” Mickelson asked.
Tom Stites, Nike Golf’s director of product creation, said his company was “confused and disappointed.”
In the face of such criticism, the USGA is standing firm with its intent to limit the spin that players can achieve out of the rough.
This was first stated in the USGA’s “Notice to Manufacturers” dated Feb. 27, 2007: “The objective of this change is to limit the effectiveness of grooves on shots from the rough to the effect of a traditional V-groove design.”
And how much spin does a traditional V-groove design really produce from the rough?
The answer, according to Stites, is about half the spin of a modern U-groove or square-groove design.
“Out of heavy rough in Texas in May, we tested world-class players. These guys hit it (with square-grooved sand wedges) about 110 yards at approximately 10,000 RPMs (spin),” Stites said. “Then we asked them to hit the same exact shot with 1970s grooves. The spin went down to 5,000 to 5,500 RPMs, and the ball was flying way down the field (because of so-called fliers that often occur with smaller grooves).”
Faced with the prospect of losing as much as 50 percent of their wedge spin, club manufacturers got creative with groove geometries. This is exactly what Ping’s Karsten Solheim did in the mid-1980s when he invented square grooves without violating existing regulations.
“What we have been able to do will surprise some people,” Roger Cleveland, Callaway’s wedge and iron designer, said before the USGA decision.
The USGA rebuffed Callaway, Nike and others by adding the stipulations. “We certainly have made our goal clear,” USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge said. “We believe our written rules will accomplish that. We sent this letter because we felt we needed to enhance (the clarity of the rules).”