The Biggest Big Bertha is safe. And that's probably the case with all the other oversized titanium clubs jammed into golf bags everywhere.
Golf's ruling body decided Wednesday to leave well enough alone in announcing a new standard to test golf clubs that virtually ensures the latest and hottest oversized clubs on the market today will remain legal.
"We are not uncomfortable with what we see in the market today," said David Fay, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association.
In a decision providing big relief to manufacturers in the $2.5 billion golf equipment industry, the USGA basically decided to leave current golf clubs alone as it goes forward with a new standard for testing to regulate future golf club development.
Clubs will eventually have to pass tests for a "spring-like effect" that occurs when they deform at impact with the ball, but Fay said he was confident "virtually all" of the current clubs on the market would pass the proposed test.
Manufactures cheered the ruling, saying golfers had slowed their buying of clubs since word surfaced the USGA might not approve some of the best selling golf clubs.
"We've had consumers on the sidelines," said Donald Dye, chief executive officer of Callaway, which makes the Biggest Big Bertha."Hopefully they'll feel comfortable now going out and buying our product."
But Dye and others also warned that the USGA could be in for a battle if its proposed new standards narrow the chances that manufacturers can continue to come up with new clubs that appeal to the nation's golfers.
"The USGA still feels it needs to protect the game from the equipment manufacturers, and I strongly disagree with that," Dye said.
Equipment manufacturers depend on new technology for a turnover in club sales to keep golfers buying the latest product.
Wally Uihlein, chief executive officer of Titleist, said his company welcomed the decision but would also be looking closely at any new standards.
"What we're hoping is to work with the USGA to ensure the protocol ... is believable to 25 million golfers," Uihlein said.
The USGA had indicated in the months before this week's U.S. Open that it was concerned that technology was making the game too easy for professionals and amateurs.
But Fay said Wednesday current popular clubs like the Biggest Big Bertha and the Taylor Made Titanium 2 oversized drivers have not dramatically altered the game at either level.
"We don't believe that clubs submitted to this point have lessened the skill to play the game at championships such as the U.S. Open or at a recreational level," Fay said.
Golf club manufacturers had gone on the offensive in recent weeks after talk of club restrictions surfaced, running full-page ads in national newspapers, arguing the clubs make the game more enjoyable and have not otherwise changed it.
Some golfers, such as Jack Nicklaus, have long argued that the bal should be changed to make golf more challenging. Others, such as John Daly, said they welcomed technological advancements.
"It's a free country," Daly said following the USGA announcement."I don't believe in slowing down technology. That's what America's all about."
The USGA said it has developed a test to measure the springboard effect from golf clubs and would be sending it to manufacturers. Manufacturers will be allowed to critique the test before it is finally adopted.
"The test will measure the enhanced velocity of a golf ball of a titanium plate," Fay said.
Fay said titanium would be used for the new standard because it is the predominant material in oversized drivers and fairway woods that have boomed in popularity the last few years. All future materials used in clubs will have to come within the standards based on the titanium plate.
"Wherever they draw the line it's still going to be arbitrary," warned Leonard Decof, a lawyer for Callaway."They can't prove that technology is hurting the integrity of the game."
The USGA is also working on a new test to regulate golf balls. For two years it has labored on a new indoor test that would replace an outdoor test first implemented in 1976 to restrict ball development.
The development of clubheads made of lightweight titanium has allowed manufacturers to increase the size of clubheads and, they say, allow golfers to swing clubs easier.
Although the average drive on the PGA tour has increased from 260 yards to 269 yards in five years, the average handicap of a recreational golfer has dropped from 16.8 to only 16.6 since 1981.
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