The USGA and the Royal and Ancient society are making a concerted effort to improve the rules of golf. It’s a good step in a badly needed direction — but they don’t go far enough.
First, both outfits should be applauded for their efforts to make the game faster and more fun. I left my NCGA-affiliated club because playing by strict rules was anything but — and the club could not remain affiliated or report scores for HCP purposes unless it adheres to those rules. So no one had any choice in the matter.
But at https://usga.org/rules, you can see that they are trying to make things better.
Interestingly, to see the anticipated pages, you need to skip the “Resources” link on that page and go directly to the “Feedback” link. That page has a link to the “33 proposed changes that are expected to have the most impact on the game and to be of the most interest to golfers.”
Several of the anticipated rules changes are quite good, in fact.
- A maximum score format.
That single change will speed up club tournaments no end — tournaments which necessarily take place on the weekend, and which affect everyone who follows the tournament.
- Expanded Lateral Hazards
Courses can mark jungles, forests, and waist-tall grasses next to the fairway as a lateral hazard, instead of being limited to water hazards — so you can drop a ball where you went in, take a stroke, and play on, the same way you would for a lateral water hazard, instead of incurring the onerous Stroke and Distance penalty.
- Allowing distance devices, by default.
That’s a good thing, in general, because they speed up the game. Currently, an affiliated club has to make a local rule to allow them. After the change, they’ll be allowed by default, and a local rule will be required to disallow them.
However, in several areas the rules do not go far enough. Here are the additions I propose:
- Any bare ground within the area of the fairway is “ground under repair”.
- That situation applies mostly to divots, but I have also seen water-starved fairways that had bare areas all over the place.
- It is a lot more fun to play from even a small amount of grass, and it makes no sense to penalize an otherwise good stroke for the kind of deplorable conditions that are prevalent on many a public course.
- The exception is the generally-unkempt grassy areas that surround a bunker (although bare spots in such areas are few and far between).
- Any area beyond the “fringe” (mown, grassy area) that is adjacent to the fairway is by definition a “lateral hazard”.
- Rather than waiting for course management to mark it as such, simply declare jungles, forests, and waist-high grass for what they are — a hazard.
- If OB, the player is forced to drop at the edge of the fringe, with a one-stroke penalty.
- If ball is lost, player is forced to drop.
- If ball is found, player has the choice of playing it as it lies, or taking a stroke and the drop.
- As I wrote in The Stupidest Penalty in Golf, stroke-and-distance has no place on a public golf course. It forces everyone to spend the maximum allowed time searching for their ball, and everyone playing in a club competition is forced to DQ, rather than hold up every group behind them.
- Distance Devices should allow wind and elevation adjustments.
- If a pro player can get advice from their caddy, why can’t I get it from a $1 app that sits on my phone? (or a free app, even).
- Anything that makes a player better speeds up play, because the number of strokes it takes to finish a hole is the most accurate predictor of the time it took to play it.
- Such apps are educational, as well. They teach the player to be aware of such influences.
- As good as they are, such devices are not totally accurate. They don’t measure current wind speed in this locality (in a valley, say). Instead, they use generalized weather report data. Their GPS measurements aren’t accurate enough to gauge elevation changes with precision, either. So a player still has to make an intelligent adjustment.
- The app I use even lets me track club distances, and will recommend a club. But I still have to adjust the recommendations because the recorded distances don’t take into account how well I’m swinging atthat moment, or the current conditions. (I once played at sea level on the coast, after a rain. The recommendations were two clubs short, compared to the conditions I usually play in.)
- To my mind, then, it makes sense to allow either a caddy, or a caddy-in-your-pocket device like a DMD device. After all, if a pro gets the benefits of a caddy’s knowledge, the least you can do is let me take advantage of the limited information I can get from my phone.
- Greens books should not be allowed when you can see the green.
- From 30 or 40 yards away (for me) or 120 yards away (for the pros), a greens book helps a player choose a landing area. That speeds up the game by preventing long walks by good players, and bad choices by the less skilled.
- Once you get to chipping distance — or at the very least, when you are actually on the green or its fringe, anyone who consults a greens book should be shot on sight. (Jordan: I’m talking to you. You’re better than that!)
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