Driver glitch could open debate

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

An inadvertent manufacturing glitch that affects relatively few drivers may refuel debate over companies marketing clubs that don't conform to United States Golf Association regulations.

That glitch led to a recent warning from Nike that a small number of the square-headed Sumo2 drivers are slightly outside USGA standards for spring-like effect off the face of the club, leading to a slight distance advantage of one to two yards. The number of clubs affected likely is between 200 and 300 in Canada.

"We want to be up front, clear, concise and transparent in the process because our consumers mean the world to us, especially as a growing, emerging golf company," said Nike Golf Canada general manager Mike Kelly, who announced several options for those who may have ended up with one of these hot drivers.

Those options include full refunds, trade-ins or testing of their driver at Nike's Canadian headquarters throughout May. The fourth option is to do nothing at all.

"We've already heard some feedback from some of the pros that some consumers are just going to do nothing," Kelly said.

"They love their square (Sumo2) and they're just going to stick with it."

That's the hot-button issue right there, a debate that hit a peak in 2000 when Callaway introduced the ERC, a hot driver that carried the initials of company icon Ely Callaway.

It was no secret that the ERC did not conform to USGA standards, but it and the ERC II that followed became the centrepieces of a passionate debate that even saw Arnold Palmer alienated from the USGA for promoting the ERC for recreational play.

Callaway sued the Royal Canadian Golf Association, which traditionally goes along with the USGA on such matters, for doing so in this case when the Royal and Ancient in other parts of the world wasn't being as sticky on spring-like effect. The lawsuit between Callaway and the RCGA was settled in 2001.

Purists argue that all things should be equal, including golf clubs, to maintain the integrity of the game.

On the other hand, the USGA often has been accused of placing too much emphasis on the pros and high-level golfers, while the majority of golfers have trouble breaking 90.

So, if these mere mortals, many without an official handicap, play recreational golf instead of sanctioned tournaments, then no harm, no foul, if they're using non-conforming clubs goes that argument.

"The square driver is really geared towards the average player to a higher handicapper," said Kelly, adding that it will be interesting to see how many consumers decide to just stick with the club they have purchased, even with the knowledge that it is non-conforming.

"We really haven't done the work in Canada from a consumer point of view to see if that's what they want," Kelly said.

"I think it's an interesting situation. How will golfers react to this? Will they care? Will they really go against conformity? Will they say, 'My game's more important?'"

Kelly adds that companies are constantly pushing USGA limits on everything from spring-like effect to club head size and says, in Nike's case, it's actually had to "slow down" certain products to conform.

MARKETED

The key to putting a non-conforming club in the public realm is how it is marketed.

Manufacturers need to avoid trying to sneak one past the consumer and make it clear that those products can't be used in sanctioned tournaments or club championships.

Then, it's up to golfers whether they go with it.

"We talked about that in various stages since we've been a club company which is only four years old, but in this case, we didn't want to have deception part of the deal. We respect the game. We worked with the USGA on this," Kelly said.

"If we decided that we wanted to market something illegal, that would be a different subject."

The golf club market is a competitive one and any suggestion that a large number of consumers are willing to look the other way when it comes to USGA standards may force mainstream companies to consider once again the subject of marketing the bad-boy drivers.

"We've thought about it, but we've never actually done it," Kelly said.


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