R&A/USGA propose groove rules changes

Concern over the amount of spin elite players can place on the ball when playing from the rough has prompted governing bodies to act.

The R&A and USGA have proposed rules changes governing the shape of grooves on everything other than driving clubs and putters.

The USGA says research shows "that for shots struck by clubs from the rough with urethane covered balls (the type of ball used by most highly skilled players), modern square or U-shaped groove clubs result in higher ball spin rates and steeper ball landing angles than V-shaped groove designs that were predominantly used in the past." It goes on to suggest it has become easier for elite players to hit shots from the rough to the green and that the importance of driving accuracy has decreased.

The R&A's director of rules and equipment standards David Rickman said, "By limiting the amount of spin that can be generated for shots from the rough, we hope to place greater emphasis on accuracy and the skill required to recover from the rough. It is a matter of re-establishing a proper balance to the game and ensuring that skill remains the dominant element of success."

The proposed limits on "groove cross-sectional area" and "groove edge sharpness" would apply to all clubs apart from driving clubs and putters manufactured after January 1 2010. The R&A also suggested "the rules could be introduced for competitions restricted to highly skilled players from January 1 2009."

For club golfers a "concessionary period of at least 10 years is anticiapted, recognising the costs involved in changing equipment."

The announcement has had a mixed reception from some of the game's leading figures. Former European number one Colin Montgomerie welcomed the news, saying that anything that makes the game more challenging for the pros must be welcomed with open arms.

"You have difficult shots that have become easier to pull off," said the Scot.

"Anything that makes it tougher is a plus for the game. With people hitting the ball an awfully long way, accuracy has become less important. I suppose this is what they are trying to reverse."

However, golfing great Jack Nicklaus, the game's most successful Major winner, hinted that the rules could have been changed even further to level the playing field even more.

"If you changed the ball and the distance it travels you could bring thousands of courses back into play," he said.

"These courses, some of them historic and of the highest class, have become obselete in terms of their suitability for staging professional events. The only way to prevent a continuation of this is to make fundamental changes to the golf balls."

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