By: Rob Harris
For the curious, one of the downsides of a judicial system that permits parties to settle their disputes voluntarily is the secrecy that often attaches to the terms of settlement. Such is the situation with a dispute involving the USGA about which we wrote last year. In June 2012, the owners of DiabloGolf.com took on the USGA and its GHIN handicap system, alleging in a federal complaint that the handicap system was in the public domain and not proprietary intellectual property as argued by the USGA.
When the suit was filed, we posited that “the dispute conceivably can result in a settlement involving a licensing agreement that will permit DiabloGolf.com to carry on its activities in the good graces of the USGA. Alternatively, the USGA may take a hard line, which certainly will elevate the stakes for the protected status of the handicapping system in this age of social networking.”
The parties opted for the first alternative, reaching a settlement that encompasses a licensing arrangement. As the jointly issued statement of the parties provides, “the USGA and XYZ Media, Inc., the owner of DiabloGolf (http://www.diablogolf.com), have amicably resolved a lawsuit and beginning in March 2013, DiabloGolf will be creating Type 3 Internet-based golf clubs (as defined in the USGA Handicap System Manual) with the ability to issue a USGA Handicap Index to qualifying club members. Qualifying club members may use a valid Handicap Index in the manner set forth in the USGA Handicap System Manual.”
The more complete statement, found on the DiabloGolf website, ignores the strong feelings underlying last year’s complaint. As it provides,
“We are excited to announce that DiabloGolf members will now have the opportunity to join DiabloGolf’s New USGA Conforming Golf Clubs. We have worked hard to provide our members with this enhancement to make the #1 Golf Handicap App for smartphones even better. Our new clubs will offer golfers more flexibility in the events they can play and are recognized nationwide by the USGA.
“Current members can rest assured that score histories will remain unchanged and transfer directly to the new USGA Handicap Index. Current members will also be allowed a five-score grace period before being required to convert to the new USGA licensed clubs. To continue tracking a USGA Handicap Index and using our services beyond the fifth score entry, users can simply purchase a DiabloGolf Membership for $14.99 a year.
“Going forward, our Recreational Handicap will no longer be offered. It is the USGA’s decision that Recreational Handicaps not be offered with our USGA Conforming Golf Clubs.”
Absent from the public statements is information that enables one to determine whether DiabloGolf.com is paying a high royalty for the license–a sign that the USGA viewed the case as weak–or whether the USGA essentially caved in recognition that it had problems on the merits. With the passage of time–and the potential filing of similar claims by others–one may have an answer. For now, however, it appears as though DiabloGolf users will have full access to GHIN handicaps.