I’ve been writing for several years that for 99% of golfers, the PGA of America is far more relevant than the USGA. It is the PGA professional who manages our courses and clubhouses, teaches our lessons, runs our outings and in general influences our golfing lives. There’s a good chance that will encounter a PGA Professional every time you visit a course. Further, it is the PGA of America’s offshoot, the PGA Tour, that golfers look to as role models.
In contrast, few golfers have ever had more than a passing acquaintance with a USGA official. Unless you play one of their high-end tournaments, it is unlikely the USGA will have much impact on your golfing life. Rules? Every player I know acquired their rudimentary knowledge of the rules either from a PGA professional, or from a friend who is serious about the game. In most cases, my golfing friends just try to do what seems fair.
I admire the work done by the PGA of America and its representatives on the courses. On the other hand, I have to think hard to visualize what the USGA does for a player like me: an enthusiastic, mid handicapper who plays random muni- and public courses.
Given the relevance of the PGA of America, I’ve been suggesting for some time that they write their own rules (also here). The USGA’s are so long and so complicated that they issue a 750 page book of “decisions” to clarify them. It is telling that one of the USGA’s “services” is answering the “thousands” of inquiries they get each year on the rules.
The USGA claims to be for the “Good of the Game,” but it is increasingly just “For The Good of High Revenue Championships For Highly Skilled Players.”
The PGA of America has the opportunity to seize the high ground and write a set of rules that streamlines the game, picks up pace of play and makes the game more enjoyable for the millions who just like to get out and hit the ball.
Just hang a shingle outside the clubhouse: “PGA of America Rules Enforced Here.”
TaylorMade CEO Mark King agrees. In an interview at the PGA Show in Florida, he said:
“If I were running the PGA of America I would write my own set of rules. I’d do it with the PGA Tour. Right so then what would happen with the U.S. Open and those 11 tournaments? They would follow suit because they would have no choice. Because if they don’t have any players they don’t have any tournament and if they don’t have any tournament they don’t have any money.”
And a further prediction from Mark King, which I have also voiced:
the USGA within 10 years will be a non-entity, they will be a non-factor in golf because they are choosing to be on the outside and no one is signing up for what they represent. The industry is going to move away from them and pass them. They’re obsolete. I hate to say that but that’s their behaviour.”
I’ve actually had a beef with the USGA since I was told many years ago that I couldn’t get a handicap index unless I belonged to a club. Since I was a nomadic golfer—playing a different course virtually every time I went out—I couldn’t get a handicap index. The rules have since much relaxed, with “virtual clubs,” but it is telling that the vast majority of golfers still don’t have maintain a handicap index.
I think that the only way the USGA remains relevant is rules bifurcation. It takes no stretch to imagine a set of rules for 99% of golfers, and another set for the small number who play the high end tournaments. All the USGA has to do is to establish Class A (Tournament) and Class B (Recreational) rules. Players who want to compete in Class A will know the conditions going in. The same would apply to equipment.
Regardless of what happens to the rules, TaylorMade’s King says the company is going forward:
“What we’re (TMaG) going to do whether there is bifurcation or not is we will continue to make long putters for golfers. If they roll the ball back we’re not going to roll our ball back. We will for a tournament ball but we’re still going to sell you a ball you can play. Like I said, two sets of rules are coming. Whether they’re sanctioned or not we are not going to stop making long putters and I’m not going to stop playing one. I won’t. By the time it happens the USGA is either going to have to get with it or stand off somewhere all by themselves. And look I’m still not convinced the PGA Tour is going to completely embrace the long putter rule. I’m not. So what’s going to happen? If Tim Finchem says he’s going to use all the USGA rules EXCEPT the long putter rule there you go. You have two sets of rules. That’s where it’s going and it’s coming fast. The sadness I have for the USGA is instead of leading this they’re fighting it and for what reason? I don’t know.”
I like TMaG’s stand. I hope, however, that it doesn’t come to that.
King is not the only one, however, who looks to a different rules regime in the future. Ted Bishop, President of the PGA of America, also hints at a change:
“Maybe we are at a point where we need to consider what impact bifurcation would have and if that’s an answer or a potential answer to this situation, so that we can avoid some sticky issues like we are currently involved in with banning a long putter and anchoring or even some of the issues that possibly come up in the future.”
Here’s my plea to Bishop: Take the initiative and issue a set of PGA of America Rules of Golf.