It used to be that if you wanted to go from fading the ball to drawing the ball you had to adjust your swing. Now, increasingly, you can adjust your club.
Some years ago, TaylorMade introduced the R7 driver, which permitted golfers to adjust weights in the sole of the club to induce a draw or a fade. Later, the R9 driver introduced the ability to open or close the face of the club. The latest generation of adjustability, epitomized by the new R1 driver, permits the golfer to adjust the loft of the club as well. A tool similar to an Allen wrench is used to make these adjustments.
Just as adjustability has evolved, so have the rules regarding adjustable clubs. Initially, the only permissible adjustment was to weight. In 2008, the USGA revised Appendix II (Design of Clubs) to the Rules of Golf to permit more types of adjustable features in both woods and irons. The USGA reasoned that since professional golfers could readily adjust their clubs by access to technicians, additional adjustability features would give average golfers access to similar club-fitting.
While the revised appendix permits additional types of adjustments, there are two important qualifications:
1. The adjustment cannot be “readily made.”
2. All adjustable parts must be “firmly fixed” and there can be no “reasonable likelihood of them working loose during a round.”
Dick Rugge, formerly USGA Senior Technical Director, explained that the “readily adjustable” provision is intended to make it less likely that a club would be adjusted during a round of golf (which would contravene the rules as explained below). There is no guidance interpreting this term, but the USGA’s position appears to be that, if you need to use the wrench provided with your driver to make an adjustment, the club is not “readily adjustable.” An adjustment that could be made by hand, or with a common object like a coin or ball-mark repair tool, would run afoul of this rule according to Rugge.
If you’re thinking about making hole-by-hole adjustments (close the club face on dogleg lefts, open it on dogleg rights), think again. Rule 4-2 prohibits purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a round of golf. Since this rule prohibits only purposeful changes, an inadvertent change during a round (perhaps due to failure to fully tighten the adjustment mechanism) presumably would not be a breach of Rule 4-2. (This assumes the requirements of Appendix II are satisfied.) By analogy to Rule 4-3 (club damaged in normal course of play), the player should be permitted to readjust the club, but there is no rules decision addressing this issue.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be addressed to email@example.com.