June, 2015: Perspectives on the Rules of Golf

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Is there any game that so many people play, yet so few understand the basic rules other than golf?

In defense of the game, it is somewhat understandable. A basketball floor, tennis court, and football field have uniform dimensions. Creating a set of guidelines for those games is far easier than attempting to define a set of rules on playing surfaces which can span over 180 acres on which no two golf courses in the world are identical.

However, of the 430 million rounds played annually in the United States, perhaps less than 10 million rounds are played in a format that the resulting score could be posted in a US Open.

The R & A and the USGA are doing something about that by forming a committee to exhaustively examine all rules to see how they can be condensed and simplified. The R & A/USGA effort is a reality and likely to produce some significant changes.

In this same vein, Golf Channel debuted a series on “Morning Drive” designed to help make golf more fun. Charlie Rymer and Matt Ginella are the leading voices of the new Relaxed Rules series that boils golf down to just seven common sense rules http://www.golfchannel.com/media/introducing-relaxed-rules-golf/

  1. Maximum Score – Double Par
  2. Penalties – All one stroke (out of bounds, water hazards, lost ball, unplayable lies)
  3. Search time – 2 minutes
  4. Unfortunate lies (divots, tree roots, hazardous situations) – improve lie
  5. Putts – conceded with playing partners agreement
  6. Equipment – no restrictions on the number of clubs
  7. Common sense – When in doubt, use common sense and fairness.

There are many who advocate that golf should adopt a “gradient” style with respect to the equipment and rules for beginners through the professional tour player. Comparable to baseball from tee-ball to the majors or perhaps skiing in which individuals’ progress from green slopes to double black diamonds in deep powder.

However, changes are unlikely to occur in golf in the short term. I remember distinctly in 2000 at a “Business of Golf Conference” conducted at the PGA Show that then USGA President David Fay and the R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson stating, “the difficulty of the game is from which joy emanates.”

While not an advocate of S&M Golf as they may be, it is our opinion that the rules of golf should be simple and consistent to encourage new entrants, recreational and avid golfers to play more.

Why? Our focus is simple – how do we create value for golfers on a foundation that optimizes the financial performance of a golf course. Increasing the number of participants and in turn, rounds, in the sport is consistent with that vision.

The three principal reasons, as surveyed by the National Golf Foundation, that people play golf are for time outdoors, social aspects, and exercise[1] How then could the rules be simplified?

I was privileged, as part of the unwashed masses, to share a glass of wine very recently with a charming aristocrat whose love of the game is deep and whose knowledge of the rules is thorough. He is tangentially participating in the codification and simplification of same.   While no specifics were given, I gleaned that within the next two years the R&A and USGA will issue a draft of a vastly changed set of rules with the intent that even the casual golfer will be able to understand quickly and easily the fundamental rules of the game.

It is my thought that good intentions but inadvertent mistakes will not be penalized. One will also likely escape the rath of the rules when one doesn’t unfairly or unjustly improve their situation. The fundamental concept that a ball can not be advanced without a stroke or penalty will be retained.

As my few friends say I am often in error but rarely in doubt, here is my speculation as to what should change.

  1. All penalties will be one stroke. Two stroke penalties will be eliminated: grounding your club in a water hazard (yellow lines/stakes), Lateral Water Hazards (red lines/stakes) and Bunkers, ball striking the flagstick when the stroke is made from the surface of the green, playing a wrong ball, carrying more than 14 clubs, deliberately interfering with any moving ball, playing from outside the teeing area.
  2. Rule 26 (Water Hazards), Rule 27 (Ball Lost or Out of Bounds: Provisional Ball; Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) will be consolidated with relief options available pursuant to the Later Water Hazard rules (Rule 26-1a, Rule 26 1-b, Rule 26 1-c).  To illustrate, rather than stroke and distance for out of bounds, the player will have the option of placing their ball two club lengths from where their ball crossed the boundary line. Regarding lost ball (think Arizona desert rules where everything is incorrectly played as a lateral water hazard), the golfer will be able to place their ball within two club lengths where it left the “playing surface”, i.e., grass whether or not closely mown. “Playing Surface” will become a new definition within the Rules of Golf.
  3. All loss of hole penalties under match play will be eliminated. The applicable rules for transgressions under stroke play will apply.
  4. Two club lengths of relief will be granted for all situations. Any time relief is taken, a player will be granted two clubs of relief with any club he chooses. When you take free relief under the Rules, e.g. from an immovable obstruction (Rule 24), casual water (Definitions & Rule 25-1b – relief), ground under repair (Definition, Rule 25-1 b – relief, Rule 33-1) , wrong putting green (Rule 25-3), or a staked tree (when there is a Local Rule, Rule 24-2), currently you must drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole.
  5. An individual will be able to play a provisional ball anytime they want. Currently, you can only play a provision ball if one’s ball is anticipated to be out of bounds or lost. In these circumstances, should the original ball be found, the provisional ball must be abandoned. I think the golfer will be given the option, under penalty of one stroke, to play the provisional ball.
  6. Lifting, dropping and placing will be changed. A player will be allowed to place the ball rather than being required to drop. (20-2: dropping and re-dropping will eliminated).
  7. Touching the line of the putt will no longer be a penalty (8-2 b).
  8. Any player can mark a ball, even without permission, without penalty (20-1).

There are my quick thoughts. What are yours? Comment below and I assure your sentiments will be forwarded to the Committee on High.

[1] National Golf Foundatiuon, “Attrition and Attraction,” April 2012, Slide 19.

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1 comment

  1.    Reply

    I live in Arizona, and this is exactly how I play the game now. I keep my “handicap” record only for my own interest to see if I’m improving or not. I rarely meet an amateur player capable of actually playing by PGA rules. Some pretend to know the rules, but mostly they slow up play and are very annoying.