Golfers, tournaments, tours, equipment companies, all abide by USGA/R&A rulings not because they are legally required to do so, but because they agree to do so.
Any pro golf tour can write its own rules; any tournament can set its own standards; any golfer can (and often does, at the recreational level) ignore the official rules; any equipment company can make and sell any equipment it wants whether that equipment conforms to USGA/R&A rulings or not. They'd lose USGA/R&A sanctioning, of course, but they could do it.
Now, having a governing body (or two, in golf's case) is a good thing, most people will agree, because without it you could have multiple, competing and conflicting sets of rules and standards and procedures. So everyone within the game of golf agreeing to abide by USGA/R&A strictures - to use a common set of rules around the world - is a good thing.
But it doesn't have to be that way. And it certainly doesn't have to be that the USGA (and/or R&A) is the organization in charge.
Is going down the road to "bifurcation" - two sets of rules, one for pros, another for recreational golfers - something that is already in progress, something that is desirable? Is golf heading down a road that will lead to many different forms of the game? Are we on the road to a different governing body springing up - of (let's say) the manufacturers and PGAs of the world offering their own, competing set of rules and regulations?
Maybe! I doubt it will come to that (I do believe bifurcation is inevitable), but some bigshots within the golf industry are starting to publicly speculate along those lines.
For example, TaylorMade CEO Mark King. King, in an interview with Canadian publication Score Golf columnist Rick Young, had some very provocative things to say about the future of golf, and the future governors of golf.
The jumping off point for King's comments was a question about the proposed anchoring ban. King said this:
"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."
"The USGA is going over the edge," King said. At other points he added:
- "What I think needs to happen is the industry needs to come together without the USGA. Leave them out."
- "If I were running the PGA of America I would write my own set of rules. I'd do it with the PGA Tour."
- "Here's a prediction: the USGA within 10 years will be a non-entity, they will be a non-factor ... They're obsolete."
It's also clear from King's comments that he thinks there is a strong possibility the PGA Tour will reject the anchoring ban, and allow its players to keep using long putters and belly putters. I remain skeptical of that, but King certainly has many direct sources (Tour players and others) within the PGA Tour.
Read the full interview on ScoreGolf.com. What do you think of King's comments and predictions?