Do Elite Players Play with “Special” Equipment?

Golfers assume that elite players receive additional advantages from today’s modern equipment, advantages that are only available to players with high swing speeds. The previous article looked at how this assumption is false – elite, fast-swinging players do not gain special additional advantages from equipment.

In this article we tackle the view held by many golfers that elite players are playing with special equipment, equipment that is somehow different to that which is available to the general public.

Following an invitation from the Japan Golf Tour Organization (JGTO) the R&A’s Director – Research and Testing, Dr Steve Otto, attended the JGTO Tour Championship at Shishido Hills to conduct a check test on equipment. During the days leading up to the tournament Dr Otto tested just over 150 clubs for both spring-like effect (using the pendulum test - pictured below left) and groove conformance (Pictured below right). No issues were identified and the equipment was not different in any way to equipment that is generally available.

Dr Otto also used the opportunity to conduct a check test on golf balls; this is one of The R&A’s regular activities to ensure that the balls being used are the same as those submitted for evaluation. One dozen of each of the balls in play were collected and sent to The R&A’s sister organisation the USGA for testing. Golf balls need to meet a group of standards during the formal submission process (see Appendix III) and the same criteria are used for these check test balls. This includes the overall standard distance which was modernised in 2004 but essentially has remained unchanged for almost forty years – in other words, balls are held to the same standard as that imposed in the 1970s. This check testing will be repeated elsewhere in the future.

It should be noted that it is common practice in competitions involving elite or highly skilled players, for the Committee in charge to introduce conditions of competition limiting the drivers and balls that may be used. Should the Committee wish to do so, it can stipulate that players must only play drivers and golf balls from the conforming lists. The lists are not lists of “special” equipment, they are simply lists of equipment that have been submitted to The R&A and found to be conforming, i.e. they carry the guarantee of conformance.

That said, professionals have for some time been able to benefit from expert technical advice when selecting clubs and balls. In recent years the information and choice available to club golfers has improved beyond all measure, partly due to the relaxation in the Rules on adjustability in 2008, e.g. drivers that come with a range of different settings.

Manufacturers work closely with the governing bodies – The R&A and the USGA - and submit thousands of products each year for evaluation against the standards intrinsic within the Rules of Golf (Appendix II and III). Whilst it is not mandatory for manufacturers to submit products for rulings as to their conformance (in advance of full scale production or sale), it is generally in their best interest to get them evaluated by the governing bodies; indeed the Rules of Golf refer to the manufacturers assuming the risk that they will not conform unless they are submitted. 

Submissions have been made since 1956 and The R&A retains a copy of each submission for future reference. This is an important part of the decision making process: (i) new submissions can be compared to those from the archive, and (ii) it also facilitates the review of precedent-making decisions from the past.

The collection holds around 20,000 articles with just over 1,000 submitted so far this year. The peak year for submissions was 2010 when just less than 4,000 articles were submitted for evaluation. That exceptional high level of submissions was unusual though, it was caused by the transition to the new groove Rules which are due to be extended to many elite level amateur events in 2014. Any concerns which those who expect to be playing in these competitions have over the status of their clubs can be dealt with by searching the pre-2010 iron list or by sending questions directly to The R&A. There is also an online survey which can be filled out for those playing in these competitions and wanting to contact The R&A information.