SI Vault
Edited by Alan Shipnuck
February 04, 2002
Does size matter? The debate raged at the PGA Show
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February 04, 2002

Big Trouble

Does size matter? The debate raged at the PGA Show

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Wandering about the 700,000-square-foot bazaar that was last week's PGA Merchandise Show, Dick Rugge discovered the Jabba the Hutt of golf clubs, the 600-cc Integra SoooLong. After fondling the supersized driver for a bit, Rugge, the USGA's senior technical director, was more convinced than ever that he and his staff are fighting the good fight in attempting to limit clubhead size. "I rest my case," Rugge says, recounting his moment of clarity. "One look at something like that is worth a thousand pages of research. It simply doesn't look like a golf club."

There were plenty of trends apparent at the 48th-annual show—putters are getting wackier, irons more traditional—but the buzz was about drivers that are looking increasingly like Subarus on a stick. At the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, more than a dozen manufacturers trotted out models of 400 cc or more, including several of more than 500 cc. What's more, there's now a Godzilla-sized driver in every price category, from the $99 Pro Select 400 to the $500 Zevo Compressor. At last year's show 300-cc drivers were considered excessive; in one product cycle the space race has pushed club-heads past an even more outlandish threshold. "We've been criticized for acting too quickly," says Rugge, "but this has happened in the blink of an eye."

The USGA has been lambasted for more than its haste. In proposing a limit of 385 cc in late December, then rashly revising the number to 470 three weeks later, the USGA cited an obscure passage in the Rules of Golf that states, "clubs shall not be substantially different from the traditional and customary form and make." Rugge makes no bones that the debate is one of aesthetics. 'We've done no research on clubs of this size, because it's not a performance issue," he says.

In Orlando this rigid thinking made manufacturers apoplectic. Barney Adams, founder of Adams Golf, called the USGA's handling of the clubhead limits "capricious and arbitrary" and noted a delicious irony in the rule makers' obsessing about size. "They put the spotlight on big heads" he said, "so now more golfers want them even bigger, and we have to make them. This is only going to lead to more conflict"

This theme was also being employed by the makers of the SoooLong. Greg Fariss, a club specialist for Trophy Sports, which sells the Integra line, said his company played an integral part in the USGA's reversal on its original clubhead limit "I reminded the USGA that they had already approved our 400-and 450-cc drivers last year," Fariss said. "We're the reason they went to 470. They had to unless they wanted to get sued." Left unsaid was that the fate of the SoooLong could also lead to litigation. While the great clubhead debate is far from over, last week's show was clearly a milestone, and from its trenches the SoooLong emerged as an unlikely icon, for both Rugge and his antagonists. "It certainly made people stop and look," says Fariss. "It's a beast"