How do golfers know that the equipment they buy conforms to the Rules?
This is a good question and, despite sounding as though the answer should be quite simple, it is actually fairly long-winded.
The truth is that most golfers probably don’t know for SURE that the equipment they buy or use conforms, but they generally trust that it does. They trust that manufacturers are only producing and selling products which conform to the Rules.
And, for the most part, manufacturers do only produce products which conform to the Rules.
So, how do manufacturers know their equipment conforms?
Well, most of the major manufacturers are very well versed on what is and what is not permitted. But, if they are ever uncertain, or they want written confirmation, then they know what to do to find out.
February 2011 saw the 20,000th “submission” to The R&A’s Equipment Standards Department, since records began in 1956. These submissions comprise a vast mixture of items of golf equipment that have been sent in to be officially tested, measured and evaluated against the Rules of Golf to determine whether or not they conform. They are mainly made by manufacturers, but sometimes they come from individual golfers or independent inventors. They consist not only of clubs, but also of tees, gloves, shoes, clothing, distance measuring devices and other gadgets and tools.
How does this process work?
In order for a manufacturer to obtain an official conformance ruling on a new product, a finished sample must be submitted to The R&A for evaluation, together with a completed submission form and the appropriate payment.
Assuming all of this paperwork is in order, the product is then logged in our system, which means it gets allocated a decision reference number, it gets photographed and the details are entered into an internal database.
Once this is done, the product goes on to be evaluated. This often means that the item goes straight into the lab, where a technician carries out the majority of tests that are contained in the Rule Book. This includes groove measurements; tests for spring effect, using the Pendulum test; head-volume and dimensions; and MOI (moment of inertia). Grips might be measured for indentations, waists or bulges, and putter-faces might be measured to check that they are not concave or too soft.
Once all of these quantitative tests have been carried out and the results have been reviewed, a basic evaluation of the shape, appearance, method of use and intent of the design is undertaken. If the product has any adjustable features, these are also assessed to strict guidelines.
If the product incorporates a particular feature or characteristic which is particularly unusual, our database of precedent submissions is searched to see whether we have seen anything of this type before and what the ruling was.
Once this process has been completed and a decision has been reached, a letter is sent to the submitter containing the appropriate ruling.
How long does this process take?
We state in our submission documentation that manufacturers should receive a ruling within 28 days. However, in reality, the turnaround time for most is much quicker than that. But it can also be longer. If the submission is unique, or if the product contains a very innovative feature, it may be that the decision requires a lot more time to consider and discuss. The Equipment Standards Committee might become involved to help discuss the ramifications of the ruling and where it may lead in the future.
These discussions are not held in isolation. The manufacturer is often asked to submit further information and The R&A’s rule-making partner, the USGA, may also be consulted.
What happens if the product is still only a design concept and there is no finished sample available?
The R&A is sometimes able to offer informal comments and advice on the basis of drawings, descriptions and/or mock-up samples. In fact, manufacturers are actually encouraged to send their designs to us as early in the design process as possible, in order to try and avoid a situation where vast amounts of investment have been made only to find that there is a conformance issue.
What happens to the samples?
The majority of samples submitted are retained by The R&A for future reference purposes. Whilst this provides an invaluable resource in terms of comparing new designs against precedent decisions, it does create an issue with storage. 20,000 items take up an awful lot of space!
Ultimately, it is the player’s responsibility to carry clubs which conform to the Rules. If he is really unsure, how can he find out?
· The R&A publishes a booklet entitled “A Guide to the Rules on Clubs and Balls” which aims to explain the background to the equipment Rules, how the Rules are interpreted and how to assess a club for conformance ‘in the field’;
· By contacting The R&A direct.
You haven’t specifically mentioned golf balls at all. Are the same principles applied to golf ball conformance and submissions?
Basically, yes. However, there are some differences in the process which will be the focus of another article in the future – watch this space!
Do manufacturers have to submit their equipment for a ruling, and what happens if they do not?
The Rules do not require manufacturers to submit their equipment for a ruling, they merely encourage them to do so, especially if there is a doubt.
If the manufacturer does not submit an item of equipment, it does not automatically mean that it is non-conforming. However, he bears the burden of risk that it does not, which could be financially damaging in the long term.
But, how does the player know that a piece of equipment conforms if it has not been submitted?
We seem to have come full circle (go back to the start of the article!).
For further information on how to submit products for a conformance ruling, please click here.