Ping Golf Handicap Patent; More Equipment Rules In The Works?

While golf’s ruling bodies dither over rules and equipment bifurcation, Ping’s John Solheim apparently has figured out a way to factor equipment differences into handicaps. Ping announced yesterday that a patent application has been filed for an “equipment rating formula.”

Here’s the press release:

Solheim applies for golf handicap patent
PHOENIX (Dec. 19, 2012) – PING Chairman & CEO John Solheim announced today he’s applied for a patent that uses an equipment rating formula as a factor in calculating a golfer’s handicap. The pursuit of the patent, according to Solheim, is to ensure amateur golfers who want more options in playing the game have another choice allowing them to do so in a globally available format.

“The tone coming from the USGA and R&A in recent years suggests another significant equipment rollback may not be far away,” said Solheim, who applied for the patent in June of 2011. “We’ve already seen it with the groove rule and the proposed rule banning anchoring. We continue to hear whispers of more changes. But as we’re also reading on the proposed anchoring ban, many directly involved in the game favor more equipment options, not fewer. I’m looking for ways to keep the game enjoyable for every level of golfer.”

The patent application details numerous scenarios in which equipment could be rated (balls that go varying distances, for example) and are also factored in with current variables, such as the challenge presented by each individual course. Solheim suggests the expanded equipment options could be approved as “Conditions of Competition” so the new method of handicapping could exist within the current set of rules.

“One of the goals of this concept is to get people thinking outside the “traditional” box that seems to have been built around golf – due primarily to the influence of the professional game,” said Solheim. “This alternative approach to handicapping gives golfers the options to play and enjoy the game with the goal of keeping one set of rules. All of us who are part of this industry need to be looking forward to ensure the game grows in both appeal and participation. This is just one example of things we should be considering.”

The patent application is expected to be published December 20, 2012 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (http://www.uspto.gov).

I’m glad that someone has figured this out. The math surely is complicated, but the concept isn’t. If handicaps can take into account course ratings and tee boxes, then surely the math can handle different balls and clubs. Someone just needs to take to time to do the measurements.

There’s another part of this press release that bears attention, too:

“The tone coming from the USGA and R&A in recent years suggests another significant equipment rollback may not be far away. We’ve already seen it with the groove rule and the proposed rule banning anchoring. We continue to hear whispers of more changes. But as we’re also reading on the proposed anchoring ban, many directly involved in the game favor more equipment options, not fewer. I’m looking for ways to keep the game enjoyable for every level of golfer.”

That sounds ominous. If I had to guess, I’d say the USGA and R&A are going after the ball. Critics for years now have complained that the modern ball just flies too far. Professional golfers are using bomb-and-gouge to bring courses to their knees.

If golf’s ruling bodies do roll back the ball it will just be further proof that they are not in it for the “good of the game,” but for the “good of high end, highly profitable competitions for highly skilled players.” Ninety nine percent of golfers need a ball that flies further and straighter to increase their enjoyment of the game. If the USGA and R&A want limited balls and other equipment, let them institute the class A hardware for their tournaments and leave the rest to play Class B equipment.

I don’t see any problem with differentiating between different classes of equipment. During practice and regular rounds, players should be allowed to use either Class A or B. If Solheim has indeed figured it out, handicaps will not be an issue.

Even without Solheim’s equations, I have never been convinced that there is a problem with equipment/rules bifurcation and handicaps. Players at high end tournaments do not get handicaps strokes, so that’s not an issue. In local club events, organizers could simply declare that it is either a Class A or Class B event. If you’ve been playing Class B equipment to pad your handicap, you’re going to be at a disadvantge in a Class A event. My guess is that moving in the other direction also will not be helpful. A guy who plays regular rounds with a Class A ball and then switches to a Class B ball for a tournament will have a problem with distances and control.

Some may figure a way to take advantage of equipment differentials. But that can happen under current rules. Anyone can practice with blades and a tour level ball and compete with game improvement equipment. We all know that local events are full of sandbaggers and vanity handicappers. I’ve played in more than one event where I gave up strokes to someone, only to figure out a couple of holes in that he should have been giving them up to me. And I’ve played in a few where I felt sorry for the vanity handicapper who was giving up strokes in my direction.

Meanwhile, the PGA of America has taken a fairly firm stand against anything that makes the game more difficult for the average player.

The most important stories in golf over the next year or two will be the resolution of the equipment and rules questions.

 

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