Getting into the Groove

With the finest amateur golfers from around the region converging at Nanshan International Golf Club this week for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship it gives The R&A’s director of research and testing, Dr Steve Otto, the perfect opportunity to advise and educate the players about the finer aspects of the Rules regarding grooves, which come into effect for elite-level amateurs on 1 January 2014.

These Rules, which were introduced to the professional game in 2010, were designed to place the emphasis back on accuracy from the tee. Improvements in technology over the years had resulted in players being able to generate a similar amount of spin from the rough as the fairway, negating any advantage players had in hitting the cut grass – the so-called “bomb and gouge” approach to the game.

“We weren’t seeing any correlation between accuracy and success,” said Otto, 46, a former staff scientist for NASA who joined The R&A in 2004 to head up the governing body’s club testing facility in St Andrews. “But with the change in the groove Rules we’ve seen a change in the way the ball spins from the rough – there’s less control and we now see more balls finish beyond the flag. Commentators call those shots ‘flyers’ and it’s all about the grooves.”

The majority of equipment introduced since 2010 should conform to these “new” Rules – they feature limited groove volume and groove edge sharpness – but golfers can be a fickle bunch and many retain a favoured club or two from before that time – and there’s a chance that those clubs do not meet the new specifications.

“We’ve been testing this week and about ten per cent of the players have clubs that they may not be able to use in 2014,” said Otto, whose job it is to evaluate anywhere between two and four thousand clubs from around three hundred club manufacturers a year back at The R&A’s facilities in St Andrews.

The actual testing process takes around 20 minutes per set.

“Half of those players may have known they’d need to make the change for 2014, but the other half didn’t. It’s important for them that they know what they can and can’t use – since ultimately it’s the players’ responsibility to use conforming clubs. I’m here to raise awareness and to provide support,” continued Otto.

While Otto said The R&A won’t conduct random checks on players’ equipment after the turn of the year, the penalties for carrying non-confirming clubs during tournament play will be severe: disqualification if the club is actually used or a two-shot penalty for every hole the club has been in the bag.

Regular club golfers are exempt from this Rule until 2024 but with the majority of new equipment meeting the modified Rules there should be a gradual transition.

LONGKOU CITY, China – Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei pictured at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Nanshan International Golf Club, Garden Course on October 22, 2013. Picture by David Paul Morris/AAC.
LONGKOU CITY, China – The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Nanshan International Golf Club, Garden Course - October 24-27, 2013. Picture by Paul Lakatos/AAC.