On January 1st, 2014, the USGA’s ‘groove rule’ became a recommended Condition of Competition for all events “involving expert players at the highest level of amateur golf.”
So exactly what does this mean for Northeast Ohio tournament players? Will there be a run on golf shops before the 2014 tournament season?
The issue goes back to a 2008 joint-effort of the USGA and R&A, who thought that ‘bomb and gouge’ was becoming too prevalent because of wedge spin. So to reduce the amount of spin on the ball that could be generated out of the rough by highly-skilled players, the revised groove rules were adopted and went into effect for professional events and the USGA Open championships in 2010, with widespread implementation slated for 2014.
Now that 2014 has arrived, these conditions are in effect for both amateurs and professionals for all USGA events and their qualifying tournaments, plus just about every professional event series. It’s a major breach if ignored, too: the penalty for hitting even one shot with a non-conforming club is disqualification from the event. The USGA has an entire section of their website discussing the grooves rule here.
Golf club manufacturers were required to use the new groove configuration on any iron, wedge, hybrid or fairway wood built starting January 1, 2010. So if you are fortunate enough to have a newer set of clubs made in 2010 or more recently, you are already in compliance with this condition of competition.
But what if your clubs are a little bit older, even five years old? Must you go out and buy a new set of clubs to be able to participate in high-level amateur tournaments in Northeast Ohio? The issue has a real economic impact on the many ‘expert players’ who participate in tournament golf in our area who carry golf clubs that are more than four years old. So given this fact, will Northeast Ohio tournaments directors and regional golf associations choose to implement the grooves ‘condition of competition’ for amateurs in events that are not national in scope? For pros? For juniors?
Let’s be clear: a Condition of Competition is implemented for a particular event by the Committee — or it is not. It’s the same scenario as the so-called ‘one-ball rule’ in that it’s up to the Committee to decide. It’s not a RULE that MUST be followed, but rather it’s a strong recommendation that the USGA suggests be followed in competition. (In 2024, the nature of this ‘suggestion’ will change to become an equipment rule, and every player will have to replace their then 15+ year-old clubs to be eligible for competition and GHIN handicap purposes.)
So in 2014, which events and associations in Northeast Ohio will require the use of clubs with conforming grooves as a Condition of Competition?
Here is the rundown:
Northern Ohio PGA by Tournament Director David Griffith:
“We will only implement the new rule for the three Northern Ohio PGA Section events that are used as National qualifiers. The PGA of America requires us to implement the new rule for these events: Section Professional Championship, Assistants Championship and Senior Section Championship. We will NOT implement the rule for any of the other Section events — including the Ohio Open. We also will not implement the rule for any of our junior events.
Our tournament committee is following the recommendation from the PGA National Tournament Department not to implement the new rule for all events because we do not have the equipment to measure the grooves on-site.”
Northern Ohio Golf Association by Executive Director Scotte Rorabaugh:
“The Northern Ohio Golf Association will not be using the USGA’s condition of competition for conforming grooves (Decision 4-1/1) during the 2014 NOGA season. Since this rule is intended for ‘expert players at the highest level of amateur golf’, we will only be adopting this condition of competition for the eight USGA qualifying events which we conduct.
The condition of competition will be used in all the USGA qualifying events, but we will not be ‘policing’ this rule by checking in players’ bags. If a player’s grooves are brought into question by another competitor, then we will use the USGA club database to check whether those clubs are conforming.”
Ohio Golf Association by Tournament Director Matt Lefferts:
“We are still in the process of deciding on whether or not both organizations will implement the rule in 2014, but we are leaning toward not adopting the condition.”
(Editor’s note: the staffers at the OGA also run the Columbus Golf Association.)
Cleveland Amateur / Cleveland Metroparks Golf Tour Events by Master Professional and PGA of America Rules Committee Member Mike Raby:
“Cleveland Metroparks will not be using the Condition of Competition that specifies that “The player’s clubs must conform to the groove and punch mark specifications in the Rules of Golf that are effective from January 1, 2010.”
This includes our Spring and Fall Tour tournaments as well as the Course Championships, the Greater Cleveland Amateur, and Senior Greater Cleveland Amateur.
The USGA recommends this Condition of Competition for competitions involving expert players (e.g., professional golf or the highest level of amateur golf). While the Cleveland Amateur and associated Course Championships are designed to identify the highest level of amateur golfer in the Greater Cleveland area, they are also designed as a way for less experienced tournament players to gain valuable tournament experience in individual stroke play events. For this portion of the competitors, this condition is not appropriate.
This position is analogous to how we have approached other Condition of Competition issues. The USGA also recommends the ‘One Ball Condition’ for professional tournaments and competitions at the highest level of amateur golf. We do not use the One Ball Condition in our tournaments.”
Akron District Golf Association by Director Dave Chapple:
“The position of the ADGA regarding the Conforming Grooves rule change effective January 1, 2014 is to support the rules of golf and abide by all decisions of the USGA, as always. However, the ADGA will not adopt as a condition of competition rule 4-1/1 starting in 2014.
The committee feels that all ADGA competitors should be afforded ample time to make the necessary changes in their equipment, so we will not enforce the condition nor impose any penalties during competition. It is our suggestion that players check NEOHgolf.com for further clarification on this condition going forward, as the ADGA will monitor other local and regional tournament organizations for their position on this matter.”
Stark County Amateur Golf Association by Director Dustin Alcorn:
“SCAGA will not be using the USGA’s groove condition in any of its events in 2014.”
Greater Cleveland Skins Game by Director John Niedzialek:
“The Greater Cleveland Skins Game will not be using the Condition of Competition that specifies that ‘The player’s clubs must conform to the groove and punch mark specifications in the Rules of Golf that are effective from January 1, 2010.’
The Greater Cleveland Skins game has always kept the best interest of the blue-collar amateur golfer in mind and will continue to serve amateurs in the region. The USGA has adopted many rules that are not in the best interest of amateur players. This is one such example.”
Not sure if your golf clubs conform? A player in doubt as to whether his clubs conform to the condition may visit the Informational Club Database. The database indicates the conformance status of models of clubs that were available prior to January 1, 2010 and that have been tested for conformance to the rules and specifications. The conforming club list is available here.