2002: Newsmakers - The Dawson Effect

Perhaps the nickname Mr. Unification is overstating the case, but Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, was the person most responsible for the stunning joint rule on spring-like effect that was announced Aug. 6 by the R&A and the U.S. Golf Association.

“Peter was very level-headed, as always, and he was very, very determined on this one,” said USGA executive director David Fay.

The final rule on spring-like effect in driver faces was influenced heavily by Dawson and his reaction to an 11th-hour torrent of comments from Japan, which is under R&A rules jurisdiction. Here is how it unfolded:

Immediately after the two rulemaking bodies issued a May 9 proposal that included a five-year period of “hot” drivers with a maximum coefficient of restitution (a measurement of spring-like effect) of .860, comments from golf club manufacturers, golf associations and individual golfers around the world began to trickle in.

“Very slow,” said USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge at the time. “We’re not seeing a great reaction to this.”

The great reaction was yet to come. Manufacturers, many of them critical of the two-stage “back and forth” process that would allow .860 drivers and then mandate a return to .830 drivers five years later, began to submit elaborate papers (Zevo, for example, sent an 18-page commentary) to the USGA.

It was, however, the influence of national, regional, provincial and state golf associations that turned the tide and ultimately was responsible for a major change to the proposed policy.

The deadline for comments was July 15. Early in July, golf associations around the globe began to assert themselves. In the United States, the International Association of Golf Administrators, representing executive directors of golf associations throughout North America, sent a blunt letter to the USGA. The letter strongly endorsed the use of .830 drivers in all competition.

As R&A leaders began to gather for the British Open at Muirfield, they were bombarded with comments from Japan.

“They came largely from manufacturers and manufacturers’ associations,” Dawson said, “but also from the Japan Golf Association itself, which represents all constituents in Japan. This became a very important consideration.”

According to sources inside the R&A, these comments had a huge effect on Dawson, who is widely viewed as golf’s No. 1 peacekeeper when it comes to the rules. All letters directed to the R&A were shared immediately with the USGA.

“They (the Japanese) were tending to say two things,” Dawson said. “One, they didn’t want a limit at all (although the USGA imposed a COR limit on drivers in November 1998, the R&A has never had one). Secondly, any introduction of an .860 limit at Jan. 1, 2003, was absurdly short notice. That implies, of course, that some of the Japanese manufacturers either have on the market, or at an advanced stage of development, clubs that they believe are above .860.”

No formal meeting was scheduled at the British Open between R&A and USGA officials, but informal conversations were held. At that time, Dawson made his feelings clear to the USGA: The R&A was not prepared to impose an .860 limit and would be happy if the USGA dropped its intention to do so.

This made things simple for the USGA. The Americans could stick with their current .830 limit, which Dawson reiterated would still be adopted by the R&A on Jan. 1, 2008 and become the worldwide standard. Dawson indicated that the five-year grace period for manufacturers and consumers would allow ample adjustment time for all parties.

Parallels were drawn by Dawson and others to the Ping square grooves case. Whereas the USGA grandfathered the original Ping Eye2 irons with square grooves, the R&A did not. The organization announced a six-year grace period that expired on Jan. 1, 1996. Since then, all original Ping Eye2 irons have been nonconforming in countries under R&A jurisdiction.

Fay, also considered a pragmatist, quickly realized that the new rule would address another looming problem. Golfers were beginning to think of drivers as belonging to just two categories – .830 (normal) and .860 (hot).

“If a driver was above .830, people automatically assumed it was .860,” Fay said. “It was frustrating . . . no, puzzling.”

A total of 91 drivers are included on the USGA’s list of nonconforming drivers (COR higher than .830). Yet, according to sources inside the USGA technical department, only one driver has been measured as high as .860.

The USGA says the difference between an .830 driver and an .860 driver is no more than 6 yards, assuming a center hit.

Dawson, for his part, was happy to forget about drivers and focus on what he considers most important.

“The whole object of the exercise to us was, in the end, a return to uniformity, at minimum disruption,” he said. “I think the latest accord actually achieves that.”

With that, Dawson was away to more pressing duties: hosting school children from St. Andrews in an annual golf match with R&A officials. “After we play, we have fish and chips in my office,” said Mr. Unification.

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