The business of golf – “Like many other sports, golf has had its controversies.”

By Alan Prescott
March 1, 2021

To say the least, I am a traditionalist when it comes to golf. From rules to equipment to the effect of big business, and finally, to the effect of the press. Golf has certainly changed and evolved during the past 100+ years. As stated briefly in a past article, golf equipment evolved from very crude equipment, which was very difficult to use, to the current manufacturer’s offering of today that have made it that much easier to use.

Photo courtesy of USGA.ORG

As manufacturers attempted to develop and produce clubs that were easier to use, the golf game gained in popularity. With touring golf professionals Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player (the “big Three”), and many others, including Lee Trevino Billy Casper Calvin Peete, Tom Kite, to name a few, the game of golf stimulated the interest of many people. The game of golf grew more popular, especially with television coverage.

Essentially, there were two golf groups, the USGA (United States Golf Association) and the PGA (Professional Golfers Association of America) in the United States. The USGA governed the sport from start: from the Rules to maintaining the integrity of the game, through the testing of golf equipment. This was, in my opinion, to standardize the game, or, in another way of explaining it, to level the playing field in many ways. The PGA is commonly divided into two groups – the club professionals and the PGA Tour. You do NOT have to be a PGA member to be a PGA tour member. The PGA Tour is a separate entity with its own rules. A player must qualify to be a member of the PGA Tour.

Like many other sports, golf has had its controversies. One such controversy involved the shape, size, and spacing between the grooves. The battle was between the USGA and the PGA Tour and the Karsten Manufacturing Corporation of Phoenix, Arizona (the manufacturers of PING golf clubs. The owner of this Company was a General Electric engineer from Binghamton, New York named Karsten Soleheim. There have been several articles written about this controversy.

At first, the V-shaped grooves were legal in the manufacture of golf clubs, according to both the USGA and the PGA Tour. Then, Karsten changed the grooves to a U-shaped groove. A controversy ensued over the so-called U-Grooves. There were two schools of thought. The first one said that there was no competitive edge to using clubs with the new grooves, other than the scaring of golf balls. In an effort to eliminate the scaring, the grooves were rounded off to eliminate the scaring of golf balls. This change in the shape of the grooves reduced the space between the grooves to .005 inches, in violation of USGA rules. (This difference is less than the thickness of a human hair).

However, and importantly, Karsten Manufacturing Corporation, with assets in excess of $400 million, sued the USGA and the PGA Tour for $200 million and $100 million respectively. At that time, if Karsten’s lawsuit was successful, the assets of the USGA would have been depleted and it would have easily bankrupted the organization. The net effect in the groove change in the Ping Eye 2 golf irons, which were manufactured from 1985 until 1989, was a slightly higher spin rate of the golf ball when played from the rough (higher grass) and was more noticeable when a shot was played during dry conditions. For amateur players, the slightly higher spin rate would make it more difficult to get closer to the pin whereas, for golf professionals, it had a distinct advantage.

In 2010, both the USGA and the PGA Tour declared the square grooves to be illegal in tournament play, BUT, the Ping Eye 2 irons with the “illegal grooves” were grandfathered in. Chalk up a HUGE win for the big business of golf. In later, more recent years, another controversy emerged over the “trampoline effect” of golf metal woodfaces. The original wood golf clubs were, obviously, made of wood. To make them easier to hit, manufacturers began making woods out of metal. As metalwoods were developed, they were made of metal, which allowed for a bigger size and easier to hit clubs. The hitting surface was also made of metal. One characteristic of the metalwood faces was the development of lighter, more flexible faces. These faces acted like a trampoline, which propels a jumper higher in the air than jumping from the ground. Hence, when it comes to the face of a golf metalwood, the golf balls, the ball travels further, due to the “trampoline effect”.

There are other changes that have occurred in golf that have both enhanced or detracted from the game that was developed by its founders. But, that is the subject of a future article. If golf’s GOLDEN ERA was thought to begin with players, beginning with Arnold Palmer and others of his era, then there has to be at least some credit for the “Renaissance” of golf by one player. That player is Tiger Woods.

In my next article, a few thoughts on Mr. Woods and the “Renaissance” of golf. You’ll be surprised when I discuss what the consensus of opinion is and a history of what led up to the tragedy of February 18, 2021.

As always, I am Alan Prescott and I can be reached at [email protected] Your questions and comments are welcome.

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