Golf could be on the long, winding path to having two sets of rules -- one for professionals (and maybe high-level competitive amateurs) and one for every other golfer.
There are several issues affecting the professional game that seem to be compelling the R&A, and perhaps the USGA, to consider breaking off into two sets of rules for the first time in golf history.
First is driving distance, which continues to climb and is headed for a record average on the PGA Tour this season. After denying a problem with distance gains jointly with the USGA for 14 years, the R&A and chief executive Martin Slumbers said Wednesday at The Open that the bodies will study the increases this year with scrutiny.
“If you look at the data over the last 18 months, we are seeing this year movements, only halfway through the year,” said Slumbers. “We will take a full look at the end of the year, and then come back and make sure we analyze and think about it very carefully.”
Earlier in the year, USGA chief exec Mike Davis suggested the possibility of a variable-distance (shorter) golf ball as a way of curtailing distance or opening up more golf courses to hosting top-tier championships.
The other issue is anchoring, which is banned at all levels but has been scorned somewhat by amateurs and remains a tough-to-enforce rule even for professionals.
Slumbers said the governing bodies have to strike a balance between making the game easier and more enjoyable for amateurs through the benefits of technology while properly testing the best players in the world. That balance may be bifurcation.
“When we look at all the options we’ve got, [bifurcation] will have to be one of the options we look at,” Slumbers said. “Whether that’s the right thing to do, who knows the answer. Up to date, we have had a view of one set of playing rules, one set of equipment rules, and I think that served our game extremely well, but we must make sure we get the skill and technology right, as a balance for the good of the overall game.”
If bifurcation gains steam, creating separate rules will create challenges, both logistical and legal.
- Who would create the rules for pros? The R&A and USGA? The PGA Tour? The International Federation of PGA Tours?
- Would equipment manufacturers sue the governing bodies since their equipment marketing and manufacturing would fundamentally change?
- When would two sets of rules start? Which rules would high-level amateurs use?