The 2014 PGA Merchandise Show featured the rollout of Hack Golf, an industry initiative spearheaded by TaylorMade to make the game of golf more enjoyable. Among the many facets of this movement is a concerted effort to adapt the intricate and cumbersome Rules of Golf administered by the USGA to the game as it is actually played by millions of recreational golfers. For example, the Recreational Golf Association America has proposed a set of rules for recreational golfers. (See www.rgaa.org)
Let’s face it — only a small minority of recreational golfers adheres strictly to the Rules of Golf. Go to any course and you’ll find that groups of golfers who play and compete together regularly have devised adaptations that make sense in light of their objectives: to have fun on the course and complete the round in a reasonable amount of time. Plus, unique features and conditions of courses might justify “local” rules. Purists might say these folks are not playing golf as it was intended, but the point is they are playing golf and having fun.
Of course, the concept of separate rules for recreational golf flies in the face of the USGA’s staunch resistance to any “bifurcation” of golf rules. The bifurcation issue surfaced last year in connection with the controversy about the anchoring rule, which will become effective in January 2016. Although it ultimately acquiesced in Rule 14-1b, the PGA of America is continuing to push for a grandfather rule for recreational golfers.
I’m not sure I like the 15” cup concept, although I probably would make a few more 4-footers. But based on years of experience and an informal survey, here are a few ideas for recreational golf rules (with apologies to my friends at the USGA):
1. Eliminate the stroke-and-distance rule for balls that are lost or out of bounds. (This is probably the most violated rule in golf. Are you really going to return to the tee on a busy Saturday morning if you can’t find your ball?) If a ball is lost in the woods or is out of bounds, drop where the ball entered the woods or crossed the boundary line with a 1-stroke penalty (similar to the lateral hazard rule). If a ball is lost in an open area, drop a ball as nearly as possible to where it likely was lost.
2. Additional water hazard option. If a water hazard extends from the tee to the edge of the green on a par-3 hole and the ball comes up short of the green in the water, the only option under Rule 26 is to re-tee. Why make a golfer masochistically hit repeated balls into a hazard if he or she can’t reach the green? In this situation, allow a drop to the side of the hazard at the point where the ball landed. Alternatively, players could mutually agree on a drop zone. (This rule could apply to shots through the green as well.)
3. Most of us play on courses that don’t measure up to the conditions of Augusta National. If a ball is in the fairway, it may be moved within one club length to avoid playing from divots or substandard areas. In the rough, a ball may be moved if a root or rock interferes with the shot. Do we really need to break clubs or wrists in the strict adherence to USGA rules?
4. I think we’ve all seen enough controversies about imperceptible movements of balls. If a ball moves slightly (but retains its basic position) when the player moves loose impediments or addresses the ball, there is no penalty. (This doesn’t mean you can move a stick and bat the ball 20 yards into better position.)
5. Liberalize the unplayable ball rule by permitting a drop at the nearest point that permits an unrestricted stance and swing. Two club lengths in many cases affords no meaningful relief.
6. I would also consider liberalizing the unplayable ball rule concerning bunkers. Under Rule 28, if you have a difficult lie in a bunker and declare your ball unplayable, you must drop it in the bunker. Allow a drop behind the bunker with a 1-stroke penalty. This would speed play significantly. Few mid to high handicappers have the requisite sand game to extricate themselves from pot bunkers and the like with any regularity. Besides, if you can drop out of a water hazard, why not a bunker, which is also defined as a hazard?
7. We might also rethink the 2-stroke penalty for grounding a club in a hazard. If we have to play out of a hazard, haven’t we penalized ourselves enough without worrying about grazing sand on our backswing or resting our clubhead on grass?
8. Permit competitors to mutually agree on areas of the course that should be treated as ground under repair (e.g. areas with deep ruts, bare dirt, or stones and roots). Most courses are not diligent about marking ground under repair, which means you are not entitled to relief. Adopt a common sense approach to areas of the course that plainly depart from normal standards of maintenance.
9. Relax the 14-club limit (another commonly violated rule). If my opponent in our league match wants to carry two drivers and six wedges, I really have no problem. He’ll just confuse himself in club selection which will work to my advantage. Plus, this would increase equipment sales. (It would probably be hard to fit more than 25 clubs in most bags.)
10. Play ready golf. No penalty for playing out of turn. This includes the putting green. Don’t mark anything within four feet after a missed putt. Putt out. (The rules actually permit this.)
This might be a start. But don’t look for an adoption of any of these rules when the USGA and R&A issue the next rules revisions in 2016. They are still busy fine-tuning the anchoring rule.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop. He also writes a rules feature for ESPN.com. Rules inquiries may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.