A golf-ball-shaped device that blows talc into the air is the subject of the latest dustup over what's legal on the links.
The small Rochester company that makes the squeezable product, called the Windage, is battling the powerful U.S. Golf Association (USGA) over whether the device constitutes an illegal way for players to judge wind direction.
The USGA, which has the final say in most golf equipment matters, has made up its mind. It calls the Windage an "artificial device for the purpose of gauging or measuring conditions that might affect play."
Windage inventors Brian Trachsel and David Healy this week sued the USGA in federal court in Minneapolis, accusing the 700,000-member organization of violating anti-trust laws by using its product-approval muscle to keep Windage out of the mainstream golf marketplace.
The Windage folks call the USGA decision "arbitrary and capricious." They claim it denies them access to professionals and low-handicap amateurs who typically won't touch a product that doesn't pass USGA rules, thus limiting its exposure to the golfing public.
The USGA says it will "vigorously defend" its decision against the Windage.
The company's owners contend that old-school methods for judging wind direction -- tossing blades of grass into the air, or keeping an eye on wafting cigarette or cigar smoke -- are bad for the turf, expose golfers to dangerous ground chemicals and give smokers an unfair advantage.
The suit contends that some professional caddies who were nonsmokers "now light up on the course and pretend that they do smoke with the sole purpose of putting smoke into the air to assess the wind."
A show on TV's Golf Channel called "Fore Inventors Only'' took a look at the product but ultimately removed it from the competition to be named one of the best new products in the game because it lacked USGA approval, Healy said.
Trachsel and Healy also wonder how a spray of talc from a $6 container gives a golfer any more advantage than a $300 GPS-based system for determining distance from the hole.
The USGA doesn't buy the comparison.
"We have very specific decisions as to when distance devices are allowed and Windage isn't used to judge distances," said USGA general counsel Glen Nager.
The USGA believes GPS and laser-guided devices speed up the game by helping players choose the correct club and reducing strokes. Trachsel and Healy believe their device will speed up the game by reducing the number of times a golfer grabs a handful of grass to toss in the air.
"The USGA caters to the Calloways and the Nikes of the world," Trachsel said of the prominent golf equipment makers. "If we were Calloway, our product would have flown through the approval process."
David Phelps • 612-673-7269