The current buzzword in the golf rules universe is “bifurcation”: the adoption of different rules for different levels of play.  The bifurcation debate was spawned by the release last November by the USGA and R&A of proposed rule 14-1b, which would ban the anchoring of a club in making a stroke.

The USGA and R&A have long been firmly committed to the principle that the retention of one set of rules for all golfers, irrespective of ability, is one of golf’s greatest strengths.   While not required to do so, the PGA Tour and LPGA have generally adopted the rules of golf promulgated by the USGA and R&A.

A recent survey of serious amateur golfers by Golf Datatech LLC found that 68% favored the retention of one set of rules for all golfers, while 25% felt that amateurs and professionals should play by different rules.

At a State of The Industry Forum at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last month, PGA President Ted Bishop expressed concern that the anchoring ban could deter people from playing golf.  “As our mission is to grow the game, we are asking the USGA and the R&A to seriously consider the impact this proposed ban may have on people’s enjoyment of the game and the overall growth of the game,” said Bishop.

When asked whether he could envision PGA professionals encouraging golfers to deviate from the anchoring rule, Bishop was guarded but did admit that one of his biggest concerns is that “from a day-to-day standpoint we are going to have a segment of the golfing population that is basically going to choose to ignore the rules.”  He further observed that “there’s a whole can of worms that’s opened up with this discussion,” notably handicapping issues.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has also weighed in on the bifurcation issue, and has not dismissed the possibility that the Tour could diverge from the USGA on anchoring.  “Our objective always has been to try our best to follow the rules as promulgated by the USGA and the R&A,” Finchem said recently.  “We believe in the notion that one body of rules is important.  We just reserve the option not to, if we have overriding reasons not to do so.”

In his speech at the USGA annual meeting recently, USGA president Glenn Nager fervently reaffirmed the organization’s opposition to any bifurcation of the rules of golf.   He noted that multiple teeing grounds and the Handicap and Course Rating Systems allow golfers to play within their own physical abilities, yet also compete across ability levels while playing each shot by the same set of rules.  “Creating multiple sets of rules would undermine both these great traditions and the needs of modern golfing populations, as well as threaten the value and integrity of the Handicap System,” explained Nager.

The bifurcation debate no doubt will heat up when the USGA and R&A announce their final decision on the anchoring ban, which is expected in late March.  There is little doubt anchoring will be banned by the rules, but whether belly putters and long putters will disappear from golf clubs and the PGA Tour remains to be seen.