The USGA continually tests golf equipment for conformance to the Rules. Without such rigorous equipment testing and research programs, advances in technology could soon overtake skill as the major factor in success. There are many components that make up the Test Center, each of which is important to our efforts.
The USGA Research and Test Center first opened in 1984 to support the USGA's role in establishing equipment standards for the game of golf. Since that time the Research and Test Center has undergone two major renovations and now consists of more than 20,000 square feet of laboratory and office space as well as an outdoor test range that measures 325 yards long and 60 yards wide.
This facility houses both the specialized golf club and ball testing equipment and the highly educated and skilled individuals whose work is focused on understanding the game's technology and new equipment's potential effect upon the game. These include technicians who perform the test measurements, administrative personnel who keep track of submissions and rulings, and engineers who conduct research. All of them are part of the team whose mission it is to develop, maintain and enforce the standards for golf equipment as set forth in the Rules of Golf.
Joint Statement Of Principles
The USGA Technical Staff is guided in its mission by a Joint Statement of Principles that was established in 2002 in cooperation with The R&A in St. Andrews, Scotland. This Statement of Principles acts as the framework that guides the actions for the formulation and enforcement of equipment rules both now and in the future.
As the governing authorities for the Rules of Golf, including equipment Rules, R&A Rules Limited and the United States Golf Association (USGA) have continued to monitor closely the effects of advancing equipment technology on the playing of the game.
In a historical context, the game has seen progressive developments in the clubs and balls available to golfers who, through almost six centuries, have sought to improve their playing performance and enjoyment. While generally welcoming this progress, The USGA and the R&A will remain vigilant when considering equipment Rules. The purpose of the Rules is to protect golf's best traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element of success throughout the game.
The Research and Test Center receives nearly 3,000 equipment submissions each year. This includes nearly 900 different models of golf balls and more than 2,000 other pieces of golf equipment such as clubs, clubheads, shafts, gloves, tees and other devices. While the golf balls are submitted by a relatively small number of manufacturers from around the world, the other pieces of equipment may come from a major equipment manufacturer or a golf enthusiast tinkering in his/her garage. Regardless of the source, each submission is handled with the same diligence, care and confidentiality.
Golf Ball Testing
A golf ball manufacturer submits two dozen balls of each model to the USGA for conformance testing. The technical staff conducts the testing of more than 20,000 golf balls per year for conformance using a combination of simple measurements and state-of-the-art testing devices.
Ball performance is tested according to the Overall Distance and Symmetry standards. Up until a few years ago this was accomplished by hitting samples of each type of ball outside onto our test range. As one can imagine, testing outdoors can be tricky as changing temperatures, winds and turf conditions make it difficult to evaluate all balls under the exact same circumstances.
Today we still hit each brand of ball with the mechanical golfer, but instead of hitting the balls outside onto the range, we hit them into a net and measure their launch conditions off the clubhead (velocity, direction, and spin). We then use our Indoor Test Range (ITR) to precisely determine how each ball flies. The Indoor Test Range is a 70-foot long "tunnel" through which the balls are launched using a golf ball launcher that is similar to a pitching machine. The ITR allows the USGA to accurately measure the aerodynamics of a golf ball in flight. This information is used in a sophisticated computer program to accurately calculate driving distance of an actual drive. This "virtual" distance data is highly repeatable and not subject to weather variations.
Other Ball Tests
Each ball is carefully measured for size and weight. The balls are then tested to determine their initial velocity. All of this is carried out in a climate- controlled laboratory to make certain that all balls are evaluated at the same temperature and humidity.
Balls that pass all of the tests for conformance are listed in the List of Conforming Golf Balls that is published at the beginning of each month on the USGA's Web site.
Golf Club Testing
All components of a golf club are subject to evaluation by the USGA to determine a club's conformance. Heads, grips, and shafts all have specific specifications that must be met. Some of these are objective; like the width and depth of grooves. And like the ball, the tools range from simple devices such as a ruler, to complex test instruments such as contour readers for measuring groove sizes, and to a USGA-developed pendulum test to determine the flexibility of the golf club face.
Some of the standards for golf clubs and other golf equipment, such as tees and gloves are less objective and require a detailed examination of their intended use and consideration of past precedent to make a determination of their conformance. Nevertheless, conformance determinations are made on more than two thousand clubs, club components, tees, gloves, etc., each year.
Facts and Figures...
- A golf ball remains in contact with the club face for only about 450 microseconds (0.00045 s), much less time than it takes to blink your eye.
- During impact the clubhead exerts an average force in excess of 2,000 pounds on the ball, compressing it about one-fourth of its diameter.
- All properly struck golf shots are hit with backspin, making the golf ball fly just as the wings provide lift to an airplane.
Equipment conformance testing isn't all that goes on at the USGA Research and Test Center. The Technical Staff constantly monitors the game and how equipment advances are affecting its evolution. This is accomplished by closely studying the performance statistics; conducting scientific studies of professional golfers and recreational golfers; and through detailed research about why and how golf equipment works the way it does.
All of this to protect the world's greatest game.