Golf: Hi-tech clubs make cut

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The Independent Online
PLAYERS ALL over the world whose golf bags contain the latest hi-tech, computer-designed oversized clubs, with which they hit the ball further than ever before, will not have those clubs banned by the ruling authorities for the game, writes Andy Farrell.

The US Golf Association, which sets the rules for northern America, provoked the wrath of the equipment manufacturers by suggesting that such moves were afoot but yesterday announced a new test to which they expect "virtually all" current clubs to conform. The Royal and Ancient club in St Andrews, the governing body for the rest of the world, will be involved in the discussions on the proposed protocol, as will the manufacturers.

Instead of legislating on the length of shafts or size of clubhead, the USGA want to introduce a way of measuring the so-called "trampoline effect" of thin club-faces made from materials such as Titanium. Since 1984 the Rules of Golf have stated that "the material and construction of the club shall not have the effect of a spring at impact".

"This has been a phrase in the rule book which has had no definition until now," David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, said. "We intend to produce a standard and we expect, though there may be some exceptions, virtually all clubs currently submitted to satisfy this standard."

While personally, some members of the USGA executive may believe the leading professionals gain too much advantage from technology, retrospective action was always unlikely, especially given their expensive mistake in trying to ban the Ping square grooves in the late 80s.

But Fay said: "We do not believe that the 'spring-like' effect in clubs that are presently in use have lessened the skill required to play the game at championships such as the US Open or at the recreational level. But the concern is about what is around the corner in terms of new materials."

"Golf is constantly evolving," Fay added: "We have a responsibility to all involved with the sport to set objective, clearly understood standards that anticipate emerging technology while maintaining the fundamental challenge of the game."

The news brought a cautious response from the equipment manufacturers, who are wary of a test that involves a ball being fired at the clubhead rather than a club hitting the ball.

"Right now they have looked at one element, but no one has proved that that is the single most important factor in determining the distance a ball carries,"Don Dye, the president of the Callaway company, said.

The debate over technology has contrasting opinions on the tour, where Jack Nicklaus is concerned about his record of 18 majors being beaten, Tiger Woods thinks he would still be longest hitter whatever they were using and Colin Montgomerie says his father, the former secretary at Royal Troon, is hitting the ball further than ever thanks to the outcasts from Monty's bag.