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Golf Feature: - (posted 4th June 1998)

Callaway drop the price of Big Bertha ahead of USGA statement

London - The prices of the Big Bertha and the Great Big Bertha metal woods in UK golf shops have dropped dramatically over the last two weeks since the news that the R & A and The USGA were looking at ways to stop technology from overwhelming the game. The Big Bertha is now selling at 149 compared with 169 and the Great Big Bertha for 299 from 349 a fortnight ago.

The new rules being considered by the R & A and the USGA are thought to include reducing the distance a ball flies and establishing a maximum speed at which the ball can come off the clubhead.

According to sources close to the R & A Golf Today has been told that a series of scientific tests conducted in secret by the USGA for several months on titanium drivers has shown some disturbing characteristics. It is the results of these tests that the governing bodies of golf have become increasingly concerned and are now prepared to issue a statement at the US Open later this month.

The tests have shown that the new space-age drivers produce an effect similar to a trampoline which  increases the distance of a golf ball. This is clearly a contravention to Rule 4-1e which states: "The material and construction of the face shall not have the effect at impact of a spring, or impart significantly more spin to the ball than a standard steel face, or have any other effect which would unduly influence the movement of the ball".

The USGA has already discussed the discrepancy with Callaway. But the company has responded by saying it doesn't understand why the USGA is backtracking. After all, the clubs were already approved once.

Former USGA president Sandy Tatum, a member of the implements and ball committee, said: "People are simply generating more club head speed which is the ultimate factor in distance. I don't think the game of golf can live with golf clubs that are providing springs for golf balls. The rules are there. They (club manufacturers) can't play a game of gotcha because the USGA missed it."

It is also difficult to understand how Callaway with all the scientific knowledge and technology that it used in producing the Big Bertha range missed this important characteristic.

Callaway has so far not answered this question but points out its clubs don't give golfers an unfair advantage - they simply help them have more fun. It also fails to mention  its drivers rank No. 1 on the PGA Tour, Senior PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and the European PGA Tour and that it  announced $843 million in sales last year.

"It's a very clear issue," Tatum maintains. "The manufacturers want to make a buck. The USGA doesn't have any stake in it except its love for the game."

Donald Dye, president and CEO of Callaway Golf said "If the USGA is unable to take a broader view, a third party has got to look at it.. We'll try to resolve this through discussion. I'm not afraid of court, but that's the last resort."

Even so Callaway seem already determined to take the issue to court since it has hired Leonard Decof as special council.

Decof was also retained by Karsten Manufacturing in the company's suit over square grooves against the PGA Tour.  He works for the law firm of Decof and Grimm in Providence, R.I., and  is a nationally-recognised trial attorney specialising in civil litigation, including complex business litigation, sports litigation and anti-trust litigation.

Callaway is also thought to have retained the services of Dr Alistair Cochrane, a golf scientist,  who has been a member of the R & A scientific committee for many years and has knowledge of the secret tests carried out by the USGA.

If it is proved that Callaway's metal woods don't conform to the standards set by the governing bodies of golf then the company should address the issue without litigation. It seems unlikely the USGA is going to back down.

"The rules are out there and manufacturers are obliged to follow them. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," said Tatum.