An inside view on the rules
Thursday, June 23, 2011
The Rules of Golf today are as much about golf equipment as they are playing the game, with regulations surrounding clubs and balls dominating rules discussions in recent years.
For 26 years, Frank Thomas was in the middle of this rules storm as technical director of the U.S. Golf Association. He knows as much about equipment rules as any golfer on the planet.
This book is full of inside stories. Thomas was there when Karsten Solheim invented square grooves and sued the USGA and PGA Tour after those grooves were declared nonconforming. He was there for the fine-tuning process in the measurement of golf-ball performance. He was there for the modern-metalwood saga.
Thomas was no fan of the 1998 rule that permitted a limited, measurable amount of springlike effect (coefficient of restitution) in metalwoods. However, the USGA, having been through the square-grooves battle, didn’t want another legal confrontation with manufacturers.
“I believe this is an example of how science . . . has been misused in the rule-making process,” he writes of titanium metalwoods and the COR compromise.
At a practice round for the 1976 U.S. Open, Thomas was following Arnold Palmer in what became the genesis of the one-ball rule.
“Frank, do you know what is going on here?” asked a worried Sandy Tatum, soon to become USGA president. “Arnold is carrying three different balls and using them on different holes, depending on the conditions. We have to do something about this.”
And they did. Today, the one-ball rule often is invoked as a local rule in elite competitions.
This is a fascinating book that explores myths and facts. Thomas examines golf-equipment rules from the perspectives of the R&A and the USGA, and he traces the 42-year period, beginning in 1911, when there were two official versions of the Rules of Golf.
The book’s 35-page appendix presents a precise timetable of rules affecting golf equipment. It starts in 1452 with the first recorded sale of a golf ball, for 10 shillings, and goes all the way to 2010 with another set of stipulations for grooves in wedges and irons.
This long-overdue book has been a labor of love for Thomas, with financial support from the Acushnet Co. and its chairman and CEO, Wally Uihlein.