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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Open Letter To The USGA.

Dear USGA,

The economic crisis has hit the golf industry harder than a Bubba Watson drive on a reachable dogleg par-4.

It's no mystery why the game is in a slump. The economic crisis has put a considerable strain on people's checkbooks, even among the middle-to-upper class earners who make up the bulk of the golfing public. Rounds are down. Equipment sales are down. Country club memberships are way down.

You know all of this. In fact, we often turn to you, the USGA, for information pertaining to such figures. But now it's time that we as a collective body of golfers, golf clubs, golf courses, clubmakers and so on, come together and call upon the USGA for assistance, not answers.

As golf's self-professed "governing body" here in the US, it's time for the USGA to step up to do what's needed to help ignite a new sense of fervor for the golf industry. It's time the USGA stops acting as a policeman for golf, but instead as a motivator for new innovations, new ideas and most importantly, as an organization to help foster new ways for the golf industry to sustain itself. We, the golfing public, aren't asking the USGA for a bailout. In fact, we aren't asking for anything. We don't think it's up to the USGA to solve the crisis that the golf industry is in.

Instead, we're asking you, the USGA to get out of the way and enable the golf industry to rebuild itself.

What the golf industry needs right now is analogous to what the country needs. We need our economic freedom back. We need new benchmarks. We need new objectives. We need a new window of opportunity. To summarize, we need a relaxation of the standards as they apply to the rules of club design. Yes, I dared to say it. .830 COR, 460CC, etc.--it's not enough. Let's hike the limits on COR to .900, clubhead volume to 480CC, and stop worrying so much about how far golf balls fly, spin or whatever.

If you really want to reinvigorate the golf club industry, free up the rules on design so equipment manufacturers have more room to innovate. Let club designers have more freedom in their designs. Let them help people hit the ball farther and straighter than ever. Let them make golf balls that make the game easier for everyone. It's my opinion that much of the recent innovations in golf club designs don't do a whole lot to enhance performance. Why? Simply put, equipment innovations have plateaued thanks to the limits you've imposed. We're running out of room to get better. Which, when added to an already difficult economic market to sell golf clubs, makes matters even worse.

Now, before you, and other purists/naysayers begin to debate whether looser club design rules will have a detrimental effect on the golf industry, maybe it's time you get your heads out of the sand and get real. Trust me, 18-handicappers won't become 4-handicappers overnight. But they might become 16-handicappers, which is enough incentive for them to go out and buy that new driver and head to the course and play. Tour pros might shoot lower scores, but since when is that a bad thing? I, for one, find it exciting to watch those guys bomb huge drives and mow down golf courses. I want to see more 59's just like baseball wanted to see more home runs during the Great Depression. The whole idea that the game of golf is already too easy, and any loosening of the rules will hurt golf is just plain ridiculous. It's a power ploy, and we're catching on. Besides, with the current economic situation affecting so many golf club companies, can we really argue against anything that might kick start the golf economy once again?

Instead of imposing new rules, the USGA ought to loosen them. Let people fix spike marks. Let them use rangefinders. Increase the limit to 15 clubs. Do something to get the ball rolling.

The USGA has a powerful position in golf. They've put businesses in business and out of business. Their rules have been adopted across major professional tours, not just here in the US, but around the world (along with the R&A). We've entrusted their "Decisions" as though they know what's good for the game. We've paid our collective "taxes" more or less to fund them, and unless some changes are enacted to rebuild the golf industry, maybe we ought to re-evaluate the spheres of influence the USGA has. For instance, the PGA Tour doesn't have to adhere to the USGA. They can make their own rules. Who's to say they can't? The same goes for the rest of us. I'm not advising a mutiny on the governance of the USGA, but the possibilities for such an overthrow are growing. We just can't wait anymore.

So, USGA, do us all a favor and lead us down the right path. Free up some room for us to grow. You don't have to open the floodgates completely, instead open it just enough so we all have some more water to drink (so to speak.) Let the groove debate go away. Put ratings on equipment not restrictions. Let us decide what's conforming and what's not.

I think I've made my point. As for the rest of us, consider this an opportunity to contact the USGA yourself and encourage your colleagues to do the same thing. The golf industry will rebound at some point, but it's up to you to make it happen. Not the USGA.

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