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Understanding the USGA's latest golf club rule changes

Understanding the USGA's latest golf club rule changes

New USGA guidelines on shaft roughness and clubhead furrows and runners

The people at the United States Golf Association (USGA) have sent out new “interpretive guidelines” of their definitive rules relating to golf club design to the manufacturers of equipment.

From time to time, as manufacturers become more skilled and cunning at working the edges of the current USGA Rules of Golf, the organization feels the need to rein them in by sending out a “Notice to Manufacturers” that is a “Communication of New Evaluation Method.”

This avoids nasty headbutting or potential lawsuits when the USGA begins seeing things a little differently than maybe it did in the past. The manufacturers actually appreciate this so that they don’t waste valuable time and money developing new products only to have them declared non-conforming to the official rules.

The two new guidelines pertain to golf-shaft roughness and to furrows and runners on clubheads.

First, let’s talk about the shaft-roughness issue. Why in the world would anyone care how rough the surface of a golf shaft could be?

Well, those of us in the design business have known for quite a while that by putting some kind of texture, roughness or dimples on a shaft’s surface that a small increase in club speed is gained. This is due to reducing the air drag when a club is swung at full speed. There’s not a lot of increase in speed, but enough apparently to concern the USGA that with future advances, designers may have us all hitting 400-yard drives.

The USGA goes on to specify what the actual surface roughness may be and that any features may only be decorative (non-functional). The rules do, however, allow for past traditional steel shafts that had recessed flutes formed into them.

The next subject that the USGA addresses is that of furrows in or runners on the head that extend into the clubface. It specifies a method of determining where exactly the face profile actually is (since with some clubs the head seems to blend into the face portion at times).

I won’t bore you with all the details of the method the USGA specifies to identify the face from the head. The USGA then goes on to provide its definition of when a furrow or runner bleeds into the face — and that this would be non-conforming.

The ruling body is making sure that no club has an indented or concave clubface. This concern dates back to the 1930’s when Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones used sand wedges with concave faces that seemed well suited for hitting a golf ball. Back then the USGA changed the rule to disallow this for fear that a golfer may accidentally be guilty of striking a golf ball twice with one swing as the face makes contact with two sides of the ball.

The current USGA is only trying to avoid any such problem now or in the future.

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