Let’s start with the obvious. Yes, certain golf clubs are illegal to use based on the rules of golf. Said rules come from the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) the two main governing bodies of golf.
It doesn’t necessarily mean there are certain clubs only available on some kind of black market. Instead, certain characteristics and designs have been outlawed as they provide a significant and unfair advantage for the player using them. While this does not come into play for most casual golfers, a basic understanding is necessary to form an opinion on using illegal golf clubs as a whole.
If you’re playing with friends on a weekend, no one at your local course is checking bags before the round starts to make sure your clubs conform to the rules. Legal and illegal clubs are primarily a concern for competitive rounds and tournament play.
Now, is using an illegal golf driver cheating? It depends on who you ask. Against the rules? Always. But cheating, that’s a gray area. Let’s dig deeper and you can decide for yourself.
What makes a driver illegal? – criteria?
The head, shaft, and grip of a driver are all components that could possibly violate the rules, but each for different reasons.
The head of a driver can only be a certain size and shape, must maintain a coefficient of restitution (COR) at .83 and below, and have no moving parts.
While most of these are pretty self-explanatory, the COR restriction is less common knowledge. When a club produces a COR over .83, the ball sticks to the clubface longer and there is a trampoline type effect that boosts speed and distance.
Shafts are limited to 48 inches. Exceeding that length is sure to help gain club speed but comes at the cost of accuracy.
Illegal grips are geared towards control and improved grip strength. Think of a swing trainer or weighted club with a standard grip molded as a handle. This part of the rule prevents having that type of assistance while over the ball.
What are the benefits of using illegal golf drivers?
This class of golf drivers is illegal because of the competitive advantage they provide. Design characteristics improve aerodynamics, slash spin rate, and slingshot the ball of the clubface. Regardless of skill level, illegal golf drivers give anyone who uses them a better chance of hitting the fairway and being closer to the green than they’re used to off the tee.
What Does Using Illegal Golf Drivers Equate To?
People are attracted to illegal drivers who want to lower their scores, without having to raise their overall skill level. Is this bad enough to be considered cheating?
There’s a sliding scale of things in golf that are against the rules, but people overlook when playing for fun. On one end you have dropping a ball near the edge of the woods and saying you found your errant drive. The other is taking free relief off tree roots or out of a fairway divot. The first scenario is cheating by most people’s standards, but you’ll find some who don’t mind. Whereas the golfer in situation two taking relief from a dangerous or unfair position appeals to most.
Because they aren’t all too uncommon, illegal golf drivers have quite a few supporters. They also have people who are more against them than the blatant dropping of a lost ball like in scenario one. Your opinion can be anything on the matter and you’ll find someone who agrees.
The case for buying an illegal driver
Cheating aside, it’s easy to understand the appeal of an illegal driver. And it’s not like there’s only one model available, you have plenty of choices in the best illegal golf drivers market.
Golfers with non-confirming clubs are confident playing from a further back set of tees, hit shorter clubs into greens, and have the pleasure of watching their ball fly past their usual distances.
For beginners, it provides continued progression. They improve more easily and end up refining their skills with legal clubs later on. This results in becoming more comfortable on the course and might even help the next time they’re paired with strangers or at a new course.
Non-confirming drivers usually come from smaller companies who offer their clubs at lower prices than brands like Titleist and TaylorMade. Given that many beginner golfers replace their drivers before other clubs, an illegal one does not have to be a long-term plan. You can try it for a few years and then make a decision about your next driver. The transition to a legal club can be a bit rocky at times but is worth it in the long run to play in tournaments of any kind.
When Using an Illegal Driver Matters
Using an Illegal Driver in Competition
Illegal golf drivers are banned because the unfair effects they have. For any golf competition, it is the players vs one another. The field should be completely level and the winner decided based on skill.
A competitor using an illegal driver as a competitor is a clear violation of the integrity and spirit of a tournament. If each player were of equal skill and played good golf, the equipment advantage is likely to affect the outcome in favor of the illegal driver user.
Every golfer should have the same chance. Skill should always matter more than equipment when playing against others.
Illegal Drivers and Normal Rounds
In a normal round, using an illegal driver only affects one player. Cheating is a non-factor. While bragging to people in the clubhouse about a net 74 comes with an asterisk, it does not hurt other golfers.
Section Six of a Southern California Golf Organization publication reminds us that rounds played with illegal clubs cannot be posted for handicap purposes. However, if a golfer using non-conforming equipment enter their scores anyway, they are not likely to benefit as a result.
Using an illegal driver helps you shoot lower scores, and entering those rounds will make your handicap go down. In tournament play, this person will have difficulty playing to their handicap because they’ll be hitting the ball shorter and with less accuracy off the tee. A “vanity handicap” means being less likely to compete at the level expected of someone whose performance will not take the same dip.
At the end of the day, using an illegal driver is fine. Just don’t violate the rules and post the scores. No one wins in that scenario.
How to find out if a club is illegal.
The burden of proving a golf club legal or illegal is not that of the common golfer. It is of the USGA and R&A. Fortunately, they are on top of the matter and readily provide the information necessary to settle any debate.
Both organizations offer online databases where you can search by manufacturer, model, and a variety of other criteria. If a club is legal and manufactured in this century, it’ll be on their list. And the comment about “this century” is quite literal. Drivers produced before 1999 are exempt from the conditions in place today.