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USGA Plans To Initiate New Tests

The governing body for golf in the Unites States announced it will adopt a controversial test that could make the next generation of golf clubs illegal.

In a related effort to limit the distance that players can drive a golf ball, the U.S. Golf Association also said it would like to update two methods for testing balls.

"These measures will not take balls or clubs out of golfers' bags," USGA executive director David Fay said, asserting that the best players will be affected the most, not average players.

Club manufacturers, however, have maintained the new test for clubs is not needed because the current crop of high-tech drivers has not changed the game, despite the hoopla surrounding ultra-long hitters such as Tiger Woods and John Daly .

These "metal woods," which cost up to $500, have been embraced by many of the nation's 25 million golfers and are credited for sharply increasing club sales, to $1.7 billion wholesale in 1997.

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The manufacturers also maintained the test stifles innovation, is technically flawed and doesn't measure how balls are really struck.

At a September forum near the USGA's Far Hills headquarters, they also left little doubt that unless the association withdrew its proposal they would sue, presenting a challenge to its rule-making authority in this nation on par with the Casey Martin cart case.

"We are disappointed that the USGA is moving forward on this issue, and cannot comment further until we receive the details," said John A. Solheim, president of Karsten Manufacturing Corp., maker of Ping golf clubs.

Fay said the USGA staff and outside experts considered the manufacturers' critiques of the club-testing procedure and concluded the test is scientifically valid.

The test was proposed to determine whether clubs violated a provision added to The Rules of Golf in 1984 that barred clubheads from having a "spring-like" effect, which could propel a ball farther.

Current clubs, some designed by onetime rocket scientists and aerospace engineers, use lightweight graphite shafts and titanium to provide a forgiving, oversized clubhead on a longer stick that makes it easier for players hit the ball farther and straighter.

Fay said the test was developed because the USGA opposed "added distane resulting solely from enhancements in equipment with no improvement in the skill level of a player."

"If history tells us anything, it is that added distance inevitably will lead to longer golf courses, escalating costs, and slower play," Fay said.

The USGA executive committee unanimously approved the measures on testing clubs and balls Saturday during its meeting in Far Hills, Fay said. Thirteen of the 16 members attended, and one of the absent members voted by proxy, he said.

Clubs that do not conform to "The Rules of Golf," published by the USGA and its European counterpart, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, cannot be used by pro or amateur golfers in competition.

Fay did not know if the R&A intends to incorporate the tests, since rules on clubs and balls can be considered independently, but said he hopes it does.

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