2005: Shinnecock shadow still looms over USGA

By Bradley S. Klein

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Initiatives abounded at the Feb. 5 annual meeting of the U.S. Golf Association. There were no rule changes announced, but there were open sessions devoted to equipment, grow-the-game initiatives and collaboration with other allied golf associations. And throughout it all, the long shadow of the embarrassing final day setup at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills hung over the meeting.

“The course was more difficult than we expected or wanted,” acknowledged Walter Driver, a vice president of the USGA as well as a member of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Championship Committee. Fred Ridley, who was reelected to a second term as president of the USGA at the meeting, acknowledged that “the U.S. Open is the engine that fuels everything we do and that success is paramount. . . . We need to make sure we get things right.”

To that end, Driver announced development of a 14-point “statement of philosophy” governing course setup at the U.S. Open, a document that will take into account diverse considerations of course topography, turf type and climate.

In other initiatives, Dick Rugge, USGA senior technical director, announced that a comprehensive golf ball research program is slated to be concluded at the end of 2005. The resulting data base, covering every aspect of golf ball performance, is expected to provide the USGA with a scientific base of knowledge should further performance limits prove necessary on the golf ball.

Rugge characterized the project as “a just in case” undertaking (see James Achenbach’s column, p7). Throughout, he affirmed the USGA’s cooperative approach with manufacturers and other constituencies across the spectrum of the golf industry.

In none of the open forums was there any mention of a recent letter sent to Ridley by former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman.

Beman asked that his sentiments be conveyed to other USGA officials at the annual meeting. And his sentiments were crystal clear. “It’s time that somebody stands up and does the right thing for the game,” he wrote to Ridley.

A proponent of throttling back the golf ball, Beman chastised the USGA for failing to take action. “Is the USGA going to exercise its traditional mandate to protect and preserve the game of golf?” he asked. “I hope so. If you are unwilling to do so, it is imperative that you make it clear to all concerned that you are dropping the banner we all depended on you to carry and support those who have the courage to pick it up and firmly place it in the ground once again.”

In other news:

Rugge spoke at length about USGA research based upon raw data provided by ShotLink, the comprehensive statistical information derived from the PGA Tour.

“We’ve never had the type of information we have now,” Rugge said.

The USGA is in the process of developing a new device capable of measuring the relative firmness of greens and fairways, Rugge said. The device will allow for quantification of a previously unmeasured variable affecting golf ball distance and also could help achieve uniformity in turf conditions, akin in some respect to the impact of the Stimpmeter on golf course maintenance.

Ridley announced a goal of expanding the number of USGA associate members from 720,000 to 1 million by the end of 2007. To that end, the USGA and the PGA of America will collaborate closely. As explained by Roger Warren, president of the PGA of America, his association’s 28,000 members will encourage golfers to join the USGA as associates, and in turn the USGA will recognize PGA pros as best positioned to lead individual facilities in terms of the business of golf.

The USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews are continuing efforts to produce a uniform code of amateur status. The goal of the two ruling bodies is to produce a worldwide code by 2006. A major stumbling block is the disagreement between the two over hole-in-one prizes. In dealing with golfers who accepted cars as hole-in-one prizes, the R&A has revoked amateur status for as long as five years. The USGA has been much more lenient.

– James Achenbach contributed

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