Rewriting the Rule Book

USGA Rules

By now you will have heard that the USGA and the R&A are conducting a major revamp/simplification of the Rules of Golf.

In a refreshing twist, the USGA and R&A are, amazingly, asking for feedback/suggestions from golfers regarding the rules. And while I’m under no illusion that the USGA or R&A are truly open to changing every rule, I do believe that the power of the masses (and media) can be very strong (just ask President Trump). So I’m hopeful that some real change can be made.

In essence, this is our chance as golfers to make a massive difference to the game we all love.

There are dozens of crazy rules currently in the book. It seems that every year there’s some ridiculous situation where a player on Tour gets penalised (or even disqualified) for some arcane ruling that, to the casual observer, seems ludicrous.   Closer to home, in ‘Club land’, many rules are too confusing for the majority of players to understand/remember, while there are others that slow down the game.

For example: the Out of Bounds/Stroke and distance rule (or SAD – a fitting acronym). Since the inception of the modern game, the SAD penalty for Out of Bounds/Lost Ball has been a topic of debate. It has been tweaked, adjusted, eliminated, reintroduced and revised more times than a Trump immigration ban. So it’s no wonder why, in response to the proposed rule changes, this one is the most talked-about. In its simplest terms, it requires a player (in the case of OOB or lost ball) to return to the spot from where the shot was originally played, adding a penalty stroke, and re-hitting.

A (very long) report has been prepared by the USGA which explains the many reasons why SAD can’t be eliminated (www.goo.gl/gPt2pU). One of their big concerns is the “lack of an obvious reference point for a ball that is lost”. In essence, the USGA is saying that a player/partner cannot be trusted to find a reasonable spot to drop the ball in relation to where it went OOB/lost.

What the USGA has failed to realise, however is that this is exactly what we do for a water hazard. We estimate the point where the ball entered/crossed the hazard, and then follow a set of guidelines. So it seems painfully simple that we should treat OOB the same as a water hazard. Perhaps with a two-stroke penalty instead of one?

This “Irish Drop” is already in play at many courses across the world; applied as a local rule, even for comps. It speeds up play immensely, eliminates the provisional ball, and is a fair, simple and quick way to impose the penalty. So let’s just treat OOB as a hazard. Simple.

Taking this a step further, if we can treat OOB and a hazard the same, then why not treat ALL hazards exactly the same? Red stakes, Yellow stakes, even bunkers. There are some really smart people in the world, so surely there is a way to apply ONE rule for all hazards. Nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole, etc. For the odd situation/course where this is difficult, then just create a local rule.

Another contentious point is unrepaired divots in the fairway. Many golfers believe that, if you hit a beautiful (and rare) shot into the fairway, you shouldn’t be punished if your ball ends up in a fresh divot, thus you should get a free drop.  I’ll tend to disagree here. The fundamental rules of golf tell us to “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair”. So to take relief from a divot is contrary to the first two points, with the question of “what is fair” a point of contention. Regardless, a fact of golf is that we all get good bounces and bad bounces. That’s golf. (But maybe we can penalise players for not repairing their divots, or not raking the bunkers! I know, I’m dreaming.)

Finally, I believe there are heaps of rules around technology that need to be cut. GPS/Laser Rangefinders, checking the wind/weather, etc. For the average golfer, even if we know the exact distance to the pin, ambient temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, elevation/slope to the green and current phase of the moon, we will still likely chunk it into the water. So just let us have our technology. After all, we still need to actually play the shot.

And don’t get me started on the debate about the golf ball itself. That’s an entire conversation on its own. And the USGA/R&A have dug their heels in and refused to address it. That said, I might suggest that this could be left to the professional tours. They already dictate what their players can wear (i.e. no shorts). So why not let them impose a distance-limited ball at a tournament or two? Just an idea.

What are your biggest pet peeves/recommendations around the rules? Tell the USGA! And be sure to email them to us and we will share them with the world.

See you on the fairways.

Richard

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