Back in competition: Golf Association decision buoys Callaway's driver

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Callaway Golf Co. scored a birdie last week when a favorable ruling from golf's governing bodies allowed the company's famed ERC II driver to be used in U.S. competition.

Callaway immediately announced it would begin marketing the golf club stateside again as soon as possible. The company's ERC II, introduced in 2001, is a club with a coefficient of restitution, a measurement of how quickly the ball leaves the face of the club, that exceeded what was allowed by the United States Golf Association and thus was banned competitively in the U.S.

`banner day'

"This is a banner day for golfers," said Ian Rowden, Callaway's chief marketing officer. "We now have the opportunity to bring the greatest driver we ever made back to the U.S. market without the issues of non-conformity. We're going to return to fully marketing it with TV, print and broad-based golf-related sales support."

Mr. Rowden said a budget had not been set. According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Callaway spent $31 million on advertising last year, almost $3 million for the ERC II. That will surely increase now.

Cliff Einstein, chairman of Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, which handles Callaway, said his agency has "advertising ready to go. We always hoped they could come to an agreement on this and, a couple of months ago, when we shot a different commercial, I shot another one just in case."

The USGA set a limit of 0.83 COR on drivers in 1998, saying the new clubs generated too much distance and threatened to make golf obsolete. In 2001, Callaway was followed by golf companies Taylor Made and Adams in producing drivers that exceeded the United States Golf Association's limit on COR, which were sold for use overseas.

The USGA ban affected Callaway's sales. For the three-month period ending March 31, the company suffered a 31% decrease in net sales of metal woods compared with the same time last year.

birth of dispute

Golf's other governing body, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Scotland, refused to place limits on drivers. Thus the dispute was born. Golfers-including professionals Rocco Mediate and Jesper Parnevik, Callaway endorsers-could use the club overseas, but couldn't use the club in the U.S. Even recreational golfers who were members of the USGA could not use the club if they were also posting scores for a handicap index.

The compromise between the USGA and the R&A allows clubs with a COR higher than 0.83 to be used for the next five years starting Jan.1. In 2008, both groups return to the 0.83 figure.

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