Flashback: Optimization Talk 7 Years Ago

From the February, 1999 Golf Digest:

It wasn't enough that companies preparing to do battle for market share have to concern themselves with what competitors have up their sleeve of balls. They now have to reckon with the U.S. Golf Association as well.

Last November, the USGA announced its intention to employ modern technology to test golf balls, in the process tightening the tolerances currently allowed by its Overall Distance Standard (ODS) and Initial Velocity test.

"Let's face it," USGA Executive Director David B. Fay says, "when you look at cell phones and computers today, it's clear that 1970s technology is dated. The primary goal of our tests is to limit the available headroom for manufacturers to make the ball go farther. What impact this will have will be fairly minimal."

The USGA is concerned that technological advancements in equipment enable golfers to hit the ball farther, leading "to longer golf courses, escalating costs and slower play," Fay said at the time of the USGA announcement. Others say the organization also is concerned that technology threatens to make obsolete historic championship courses.

That test was soon scrapped after manufacturer moaning and Iron Byron was reintroduced, leading to today's mess where balls are testing fine and superceding the ODS under launch conditions favored by, uh, really good golfers who the test was meant to regulate.

"Enough is enough," Titleist chairman and CEO Wally Uihlein says. "The USGA is abusing its power and engaging in actions which it has yet to prove are warranted or asked for by the 25 million golfers and 10,000 member clubs it professes to represent."

The great majority of balls already ruled to conform to USGA rules are expected to conform under the proposed tests, whatever their parameters, according to Fay. It's that phrase-the great majority-that has the councils of war mobilizing their forces.