Here in the Golf Buzz the other day, I posted an item in which TaylorMade CEO Mark King was quoted as predicting that bifurcation – separate equipment rules for tour pros and amateur players – is not only inevitable, but that it's also coming fast.
A few days before King made that statement, along with several other strong ones, another of golf's most powerful voices spoke out on the other side of the bifurcation issue. In a post on the Titleist tour blog, Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein, who runs both Titleist and FootJoy, doesn't argue for or against the proposed anchor ban, but very thoughtfully presents his case for why golf's equipment rules (and all rules, really) should remain unified.
''There are two fundamental forces driving this progression to unification,'' Uihlein wrote. ''The first is the essence of the game; the emotional allure that compels golfers to play and experience the same course or shot as one of the game's greats, even if just to aspire.
''The second impetus is the dysfunction and instability caused by multiple sets of rules. Prior history of multiple sets of rules created widespread confusion and prompted the need for clarification and unification,'' he added. ''The fact remains that the game's growth, and its globalisation, are inextricably linked to the idea that golfers – of all skill levels – play the same game.''
Further down in his post, Uihlein delineates the three primary arguments that some give in support of bifurcation, then presents his opposing view to each point.
The first argument for bifurcation, Uihlein says, is that today's pro game doesn't mirror today's amateur game. That, he argues, is ''more a commentary on the skill of the professional golfer than amateurs' desire to play a different game.'' The relationship between the game's elite and the rest of us has always been part of golf's fabric, he says, and notes that ''today's amateur golfers maintain the same appetite to emulate the swings of of the world's greatest players.''
The second pro-bifurcation argument he cites is that adopting different rules would help to grow the game. That's a false assumption, Uihlein believes, because ''1990 to 2000 was the most innovative decade in the game's history, yet during this period, golf participation in the U.S. and Europe flatlined.'' The game's growth, he says, is more of a demographic issue – golf is a game of the middle class, he believes, and in the Western world, today's middle class is the same size as in the early 1990s.
The final argument in favor of bifurcation is that most golfers just play for fun, and that formalizing different sets of rules is just sanctioning what is already reality. Again, Uihlein, offers a counter-argument.
''If golfers don't play by the one set of rules that exist today, why are two sets of rules required?,” he asks. “If the argument is that golfers don't play by the rules and bifurcation will help grow the game, then how will two sets of rules contribute to additional participation? The logic is flawed.''
Uihlein also offers up a lot of historical perspective that is as enlightening as it is suportive of his core belief, which is that the globalization of golf – 55 million people play golf in more than 150 different countries these days – requires that the rules and requirements remain unified. And he closes with a 1927 quote from C.B. Macdonald, an early British Open champion and leading Rules official, who said:
“Golf is a world encircling game. One of its charms is that no matter where you go, whether America, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe or Scotland, the game is the same, with only such rules as are necessary to govern the local situation.”
Bifurcation is one of the most difficult questions facing golf today. You're obviously interested if you've read this far, so I encourage you to click on over and read Uihlein's piece from start to finish. I guarantee you'll learn something.