Is “Non-Conforming” a Non-Issue?

The report that TaylorMade Golf is considering releasing “non-conforming” equipment might have some salivating, but let’s step back, take a chill pill and consider the issue.

For people whose best drives barely carry more than 200 yards on a good day, the idea of some wonderclub magically adding 100 yards—or maybe 10 —in carry distance might sound quite like golf’s Holy Grail.

But that isn’t going to happen because, well, it can’t.

The laws of physics, not the Rules of the USGA, have the final say, and club designers tell equipment writers like me that they’re pretty much on the edge of maximum efficiency when it comes to face flex, optimizing spin rates with launch angles and the like.

Want more distance? Don’t wait for the next molybdenum-shafted driver with a diamond face; take a yoga class and gain some flexibility. Some new “pure lava core” inside a golf ball is not going to transform your 140-yard dinks with a 7-iron into Henrik Stenson’s 210-yard laser strikes.

What this report does say, if anything, is that TaylorMade and other major golf equipment manufacturers are doing everything they can to expand their market.

The last five years have not been good to the golf industry, thanks a great deal to the economy. So many golfers who used to plop down $300 or $400 for a new driver every year suddenly realized that last year’s model was just fine, thank you.

And only in the last six months or so have golf-course operators in certain regions seen the number of rounds finally rising to the level of last year’s numbers.

Mark King and Sean Toulon, key executives at TaylorMade, are long-time golf people but they’re also businessmen. What they’re seeing is a golf demographic that isn’t growing at the bottom level – the 20- and 30-year-olds who come into the game and support the industry for three or four decades. This is a generation raised on video games and cell phones and they expect Wi-Fi everywhere. They hone their golf skills on the Wii and are baffled why they can’t break par, let alone 120 on a real course.

For members of this generation, some semi-mysterious “organization” that governs the rules of the game like the USGA is a silly impediment to advancement of technology, of which the last 30 years have been an inexorable march towards faster, smaller, better and cheaper.

An iPhone was inconceivable 20 years ago. Who is to say in another two decades that chips in faces of drivers will allow them to flex and adjust in the microseconds of contact with the ball to ensure straighter, stronger drives?  

The game isn’t about how far but how many. No chip will be able to calm your nerves when you stand over a slick downhill putt with big money or big bragging rights on the line. That’s why non-conforming clubs are nothing more than a marketing ploy. Beware.

For lists of current “non-conforming” USGA balls and drivers, click here.


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