Technical Tips

January 2013

Rating Golf Equipment and Trying it to Handicap

Jeff Summit - Technical Director for Hireko Golf

For my first new blog entry of the New Year, I wanted it to be thought provoking and you will see why in a second.  What lead to this was an article (attached at end of this article) I recently read on about rating golf equipment and tying it to the player’s handicap, much like they do course slope ratings.  What you say?  If you think your head has been buried in the sand during the holidays, don’t worry as little has been publicized about it. I want to first state if there is one golf club equipment company I have the utmost respect for, it would be Ping Golf.  That is why these comments took me aback and why I have tried to wrap my fingers around the reasoning behind them.

Who will do the ratings?
To be fair, you would really need an independent or outside agency to conduct these ratings to be credible. Does the USGA (or R&A) want to get involved?  I seriously doubt it. The tradition of golf has always been one set of rules for all and this would mean that would no longer exist.

Are the ratings going to be generic? For example, will any head larger than X-amount but less than Y-amount, be given the same rating?  What if the player ran a groove sharpener on their 2010 conforming irons or began sanding the face of the conforming driver thinner and made them no longer conforming – who would police it and how would one account for it if someone was honest about admitting to it?

Or would the ratings be much more complicated than that?  I would argue this next statement vehemently, but in the minds of the OEM’s, USGA and general public, all component heads are inferior to brand name clubs because they don’t see the pros using them on TV. If that was the case, the same score with Hireko clubs (Acer, Dynacraft, Power Play, iBella) would mean a lower net score than with a set of Pings because they would have to be rated lower. If so, golfers would have to be nuts to pay the high price of clubs when they know they are going to score the same if equipped with the same shafts and grips.  That also opens up another can-of-worms.  Does the type of shaft and grip play into the rating system too?  After all, balls were mentioned.

If you thought our tax code was complicated…
Even on Capitol Hill, the members all know (but won’t agree on it or anything else) a simpler tax code in necessary.  Could you image going though each of the 14 clubs in your bag and going, “Well I need to subtract 2 from my handicap for this 480cc driver with a 0.870 COR, subtract 3 more for my Shred-o-Matic 52, 56 and 60º wedge set, subtract yet another for my Polara ball…oh, I at least get to add one for my vintage Titleist Bull’s Eye, non-anchored putter.”  Golfers already have enough problems remembering to clean their grips and club heads beforehand, now they will have to further calculate (and debate) how many strokes they are going to give to one another on the first tee for their weekly skins game. But I do see an app for that in the future.

Writing on the walls
Or is there something more sinister in the works for the long term future of golf?  For example, is Ping (or for that matter) any manufacturer knowingly thinking of making certain retail clubs that won’t conform to the current Rules of Golf?  Or is the USGA going to roll back and relax some of the equipment rules? Most golfers already know the difference between old grooves and new grooves means virtual zilch to the average golfer’s score. Plus it is easier and less expensive to manufacturer knowing these type clubs don’t need to conform.  However, drivers could be larger (more forgiving) than the current 460cc or the spring-like effect could exceed existing limits (more distance).  It would open up the floodgates for potential new equipment that manufacturer’s wouldn’t dare to come out with now that would be deemed non-conforming.  Golfers don’t want to be accused of cheating regardless if they play by the rules or not no more than a manufacturer wants to invest into clubs the general public may not be interested in buying. It’s a double-edges sword.

Might we see drastic change to golf itself?  When you think about the Rules of Golf, who is to say the PGA of America couldn’t adopt their own set of equipment rules for their tournaments that are less regulatory.  After all, there are only a couple handfuls of manufacturers with deep enough pocket able to sponsor club contracts for the professionals.  It wouldn’t take long to get all of them on board and the other manufacturers to follow.  The average golfer would likely purchase the equipment the players on tour use (even though they swing nowhere like them in the vast majority of cases).  Sure, we could still have the US Open, US Amateur, Mid Am, etc.  Those could go by the current set of rules. I serious doubt this is the case or intent, but would be a way for manufacturers to circumvent the rigid regulations imposed on golf clubs in the past dozen years.

What is the likelihood of this happening?
Mind you, none of these thoughts may be on the table at any name brand manufacturer’s board room. But it does cause my mind to speculate or read the tea leaves from Mr. Solheim’s comments. Why even debunk the status quo?  Personally, I play golf only for the fun and health benefits as am I sure the majority of golfers do – especially our customer base.  I am certainly not going back to wooden woods as I revere the equipment we have today. But I also don’t want a 550cc driver than is going to pierce my ear drums and potentially cave in if the walls are too thin.

If the comments are made to get more golfers back in the game and toward growing participation, then I am all for it. Where do I sign up?  I think there are easier ways of doing so that are less complicated such as designing smaller executive-style, par 3 or pitch-n-putt courses where time, space and money are less of a barrier as there will always be the longer and more challenging courses to play.  Another important thing to remember is only one in five golfers even carries a USGA handicap.


Solheim wants equipment ratings to be part of handicap calculation

David Dusek- Deputy Editor,

PHOENIX, Ariz. - John Solheim, the chairman and CEO of Ping Golf, wants to rate players' clubs and balls when calculating handicaps, just like courses are rated as part of the current system.

Ping announced Wednesday that Solheim has applied for a patent for a new system that would factor in equipment ratings when determining a player's handicap. The patent application will be published and made public on Thursday.

"The tone coming from the USGA and R&A in recent years suggests another significant equipment rollback may not be far away," Solheim said in the news release. "We've already seen it with the groove rule and the proposed rule banning anchoring. We continue to hear whispers of more changes. But ... many directly involved in the game favor more equipment options, not fewer."

In other words, why ban clubs and techniques when you could instead account for the variety of clubs when determining handicaps? For example, shooting 80 with a persimmon driver and Condition of Competition wedges would do more to lower your handicap than shooting the same score on the same course with a 460-cc driver and square-grooved wedges. When players entered their scores, they'd enter their equipment information in addition to the course's slope and rating.

During an exclusive phone interview, Solheim said that manufacturers could, for example, fine-tune golf clubs for slower-swing players to help them perform better and enjoy the game more. Scores shot with these easier-to-hit clubs would then be adjusted to account for the advantage they provide.

"The drivers of today are tuned much more for the tour-level player," Solheim said. "If we build golf clubs for slow swingers so they could get the maximum distance, the tour players would break them quite quickly."

Solheim pointed to baseball, where amateurs use aluminum bats and professionals use wooden ones. He also noted the different types of squash balls, one for beginners and intermediates and another for more experienced players.
What about the allure of playing the same courses and equipment as the pros? For golfers who see that as part of the game's appeal, bifurcation - adopting different rules for the game's elite players and weekend amateurs - would be going against the spirit of golf.

Solheim doesn't like to use the word "bifurcation," but his position on the topic is very clear. "I'm for one set of rules, if they can write the rules to give players more options through the handicap system," he said.

Solheim says a major goal of the patent is to help create a dialogue and get people talking about how to draw more interest in the game. He was not pleased when the USGA and the R&A recently announced the proposed ban on anchored putting methods.
"It was just sad, because I know an awful lot of people that anchor the club, and it's helped them enjoy the game more," he said on the phone. "It also means that they don't stand over a putt because they are afraid they are going to yip it. It's sad that [the USGA and R&A] would take that away from so many people."

Ping and Solheim are no strangers to being at the heart of equipment-related stories that have riled golf purists.

In December 2011, after the average driving distance ended above 290 yards for the first time in PGA Tour history, Solheim feared that the USGA and the R&A might change the rules of golf. He proposed "replacing today's single golf ball distance limit with three different 'Ball Distance Ratings.' One that is the same as today's limit, one that is shorter and one that is longer."

Ping also filed a lawsuit against the USGA to keep the Ping Eye2 irons legal; the case was settled in 1990. Read more here.

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