Golf's rulesmakers agree on policy for hot drivers

Thursday, May 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Golf's two governing bodies settled a major dispute on drivers Thursday, agreeing to adopt a uniform policy in 2008 and allowing different rules for tournament and recreational players until then.

The compromise dealt specifically with the springlike effect on thin-faced drivers such as Callaway Golf's ERC, an issue that sharply divided the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

The USGA decided in 1998 that the coefficient of restitution for drivers _ how quickly the ball leaves the face of the club _ should be 0.83.

The R&A, which makes the rules for golf everywhere in the world except for the United States and Mexico, declined to impose any limits on drivers.

That created different rules for tournament golf worldwide. Drivers that were banned at the American majors and domestic PGA Tour events could be used in the British Open and World Golf Championships events played overseas.

``This is a return to uniformity, and that's in the best interests of the game,'' USGA executive director David Fay said. ``I'm delighted we were able to reach this compromise.''

Under the agreement, the COR limit will increase to 0.86 from 2003 to 2007. While the USGA agreed to a higher limit, it marks the first time the R&A has set any kind of limits on drivers. The R&A previously said no limits were necessary, and that thin-faced drivers were not detrimental to the game.

However, the agreement also introduces a ``condition of competition'' that is targeted for ``highly skilled players.'' That means professional tours around the world will be able to use the .083 limit on drivers, setting up different standards for tournament play and recreational play from 2003 through 2007.

In 2008, the worldwide limit will go back to .083 for all of golf.

About a dozen European tour players, including Ryder Cup member Pierre Fulke, use drivers over the 0.83 limit, while close to 40 players on the Japanese tour use those drivers.

``This is a victory for golf,'' Callaway chairman Ron Drapeau said. ``We have said for several years that there are two games of golf. There is tournament golf, played by elite golfers at the highest levels, and there is recreational golf, played by the other 95 percent of the golfers in the world.''

Drapeau said he would support any tour that imposed the stricter limits during the five-year period.

Fay said it was not immediately clear whether the ``condition of competition'' policy will apply to all of the USGA's championship events, such as the U.S. Amateur or the U.S. Juniors. That will be decided at its meetings next month.

The division between golf's two rulesmakers had threatened to disrupt the game. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said this year he might have to set his own rules for tour golf if a compromise was not reached soon.

Finchem applauded the agreement.

``This addresses the tour's concern that official money events today are being contested under different sets of rules, depending on the competition's location,'' he said.

Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, who ordered a redesign of half the holes at Augusta National because he feared technology was making the course too short, also said he was pleased to see the USGA and R&A ``restore uniformity to the rules worldwide.''