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Do You Need to Worry About the New Groove Rules?

Most Golfers Aren't Affected by 2010 Groove Rules

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Nov. 15, 2009 - In mid-2008, the USGA and R&A announced new rules regarding the grooves on the faces of irons. The governing bodies adopted new specifications for the allowable volume of grooves (their width and depth) and the sharpness of the groove edges. The new specs - less volume, less sharpness - apply to all irons for groove volume and all irons with loft of 25 degrees or greater for groove sharpness. The rules go into effect, as a Condition of Competition, beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

The purpose? The governing bodies essentially want to make hitting the fairway more important; golfers who find themselves in the rough should find that situation more punitive with the post-2010 grooves. The new specs are aimed at the world's best golfers, many of whom bomb away without fear of the rough because pre-2010 grooves give them the ability to produce lots of spin even out of poor lies. The new groove specs are designed to return more of an emphasis on accuracy. The new grooves will produce less spin, and the ball will run out more, putting more importance on keeping the ball in the short grass.

What do the new groove rules mean to the rest of us, to "regular" golfers? Not much, really. Unless you are a tournament golfer (and play in high-level tournaments at that), you probably don't have to worry about the grooves on your clubs - and whether they are "legal" - until at least 2024.

Below we go over some of the different types of golfers and answer some questions about the impact of the 2010 groove rules in golf.

Manufacture and Sale of Pre-2010 Grooves
Golf manufacturers can continue marketing clubs whose grooves do not conform to the 2010 specs throughout 2010, and retail outlets will continue selling them into 2011 while supplies last. So old grooves may be available on the primary retail market until the end of 2011.

Impact on Recreational Golfers
Little to none. Most of us have nothing to worry about. We won't be forced to buy new clubs, we won't be prohibited from using pre-2010 grooves, unless we fall into one of the categories that is covered below.

Basically, if you do not play highly competitive amateur tournaments, you can continue playing pre-2010 grooves at least until the year 2024.

What About Handicap Rounds?
You don't play tournaments, but you do carry a handicap. Can you use pre-2010 grooves during handicap rounds?

Yes. Even for the purposes of posting handicaps, it will be the year 2024 at the earliest before the old grooves are "illegal" for recreational golfers.

One major manufacturer estimated that 99-percent of all golfers will be unaffected by the new groove rules until 2024. If you are a non-tournament-playing recreational golfer, the only impact prior to 2024 will come if you purchase a new set of clubs after 2011 (and depending on supplies, during 2011) because those clubs will have the new grooves.

Impact on Amateur Tournament Golfers
The impact on amateurs who play tournaments will depend on the level of competition.

Amateurs who play in USGA or R&A championships can stick with old grooves through 2013, but in 2014 must use grooves conforming to the new rules.

Amateurs who get into professional tour-level tournaments via qualifying must be using new grooves in those Tour-level events as of Jan. 1, 2010. Whether the Condition of Competition will immediately apply to qualifiers for professional tour events is something that most of the major tours have yet to decide.

Other major amateur tournaments, collegiate golf tournaments and state golf association championships will apply the new groove rules starting in 2014.

What About Local and Club Tournaments?
So you sometimes play tournaments, but only at the local club level - a men's golf association tournament, a charitable event or corporate-sponsored local tourney. What about those events?

Local and club tournaments are free to implement the Condition of Competition and require the new grooves at any time. That might be as of Jan. 1, 2010, or it might not be until 2024. It's up to the individual tournament committees. But "guidance" provided by the USGA recommends that unless a tournament involves highly skilled amateurs, it not adopt the new groove rules prior to 2024.

So your Podunk Country Club Spring Member-Guest tournament is very unlikely to enforce the new rules.

Impact on Professional Golfers
"Expert professional golfers" who play on professional tours must use 2010-conforming golf clubs beginning Jan. 1, 2010. These are the golfers - the tour golfers, the men and women who play the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Champions Tour, Nationwide Tour and so on - at whom the new groove rules are aimed.

As noted above, whether the new grooves will immediately be required for qualifiers is yet to be determined by many of those tours.

The USGA will require the new grooves beginning immediately for its three Opens (U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open), as will the R&A for the British Open. The USGA will also require the new grooves at the Sectional qualifying level for those events beginning in 2010, but not for Local qualifiers until 2011.

To recap:

  • In 2010, the new groove rules apply to golfers on professional tours
  • Major amateur tournaments implement the Condition of Competition in 2014
  • A local or club tournament can implement the Condition of Competition at any time after Jan. 1, 2010, but are unlikely to do for many years to follow
  • Old grooves are allowable in handicap rounds until at least 2024
  • Recreational golfers who don't play high-level tournaments don't need to worry about their grooves until 2024 at the earliest
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