The Effects of Groove Change on Golf

By M.L. Rose
Grooves on the face of a club help the golf ball spin more rapidly.
Grooves on the face of a club help the golf ball spin more rapidly.

In 2010, the United States Golf Association banned so-called square grooves -- which are actually U-shaped -- cut into the faces of clubs with lofts greater than or equal to 25 degrees. The USGA’s reasoning was that the increased spin produced by the square grooves greatly reduced the difficulty of certain shots, particularly shots from the rough. As of the date of publication, PGA Tour players seemed to have compensated sufficiently, making the rules change more of a tweak rather than a revolutionary event.

Wedge Shots

All else being equal, more lofted clubs produce greater spin on the ball, so the new rules would be expected to affect wedge shots more than shots taken with less-lofted clubs. In the first year following the rules change, however, PGA Tour stats regarding wedge play were almost unchanged. In 2009, for example, the typical tour player’s fairway shot from 50 to 125 yards landed 18 feet, 10 inches from the hole. In 2010 the averaged dropped by 2 inches, to 18 feet, 8 inches. The accuracy average of similar shots taken from the rough inched back, literally, going from 27 feet from the hole in 2009 to 27 feet, 1 inch in 2010.

Rough Play

While statistics don’t provide firm proof that the new grooves make the ball more difficult to play from the rough, anecdotal evidence suggests that the rules may be having some effect. For example, PGA Tour player Stewart Cink told “Golf Week” that he’s more focused on remaining in the fairway when laying up on a par 5. “To hit a shot out of the rough close to the pin with a wedge is a lot more of a challenge than it used to be because I just can’t control it,” Cink said.


According to USGA senior technical director Dick Rugge, USGA research showed that more players hit shots out of the rough that went past the green in 2010. This may be due to players hitting flyers, because the new grooves don’t create as much spin when longer grass gets between the club and the ball.

Amateur Players

Competitors in USGA amateur events must conform to the new groove rules by 2014. Other amateurs playing according to the Rules of Golf may continue using clubs with square grooves until 2024. At that point, some casual golfer may feel the effects of the less-forgiving grooves more than the touring pros. However, pro golfer Andy Matthews told the “Grand Rapids Press” that weekend golfers who don’t use high-performance balls aren’t generating maximum spin anyway, so they may not notice a major difference when playing clubs that conform to the new groove rules.

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