Relaxed rules can help you enjoy the game

On March 1, 2017 the USGA and the R&A, the worldwide governing bodies for the game of golf, announced a series of proposed changes to the rules of golf. Thirty-three items, in eight categories, have been put forward for revision—the first time that such a sweeping revamp of the regulations that govern our sport has been proposed.

The USGA and the R&A have advertised the proposed changes extensively, even opening up a comments site (which closed August 31st) to allow the golf-playing public to weigh in on the rule changes. The next phase of the process, the Review and Approval period, runs through Winter 2018. The announcement of the changes which will be adopted is scheduled for Spring 2018, with the changes to take effect on January 1st, 2019.

There are a few main goals for the proposed changes. One is to speed up play—for example, by reducing the time to search for a lost ball from five minutes to three; or by simplifying the procedures for taking relief from an obstruction. The others are to simplify the game, and make it more fair.

Many golfers are looking for a more relaxed type of play—less emphasis on serious, with more emphasis on fun rounds of golf with friends or family. Well, back in 2014 the folks on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show proposed a list of Relaxed Rules of Golf that were intended to be applied to just those types of situations.

Golf Channel

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Many golfers already play some version of the list above, and even if you are walking a line somewhere between serious “post-a-score” golf and “foot-wedge, conceded-putt, carefree golf”, combining some of the aspects of the list above with the changes official proposed rule changes can move the enjoyment meter needle a little further from the serious end of the scale and closer to the fun end of the scale.

Use Double Par

If there are golfers of different ability levels in your group, determining course handicap and employing Equitable Stroke Control, which sets a limit for the number of strokes you have to take on a hole, levels the playing field if you are toting up scores at the end of the round. If some players in your group do not maintain a handicap—and only about 12% of all golfers do—try using Rule #1 from the Golf Channel list, limiting the maximum score on any hole to double par. This will help to keep the round moving along; play moves a lot faster when no one is putting out for an 11.

Lower Penalties

Another “Relaxed Rule” which will make a round of golf more fun is simplifying penalties. You don’t want to eliminate them entirely, of course; a poorly played shot should carry a penalty, but it shouldn’t be too severe. Lost balls, drops from unplayable lies, and shots that go out of bounds but are found—make them all one-stroke penalties, and while you’re at it, no need to go back to the position of the original shot for a ball that goes O.B., either.

Looking for your ball in the rough? Don’t sweat it if you accidentally nudge it with your foot. Under the new rule changes, if your ball is moved accidentally in the rough while you are looking for it, or if the ball or marker is accidentally moved on the green, just replace it in the original position and continue to play—no harm, no foul.

Help for the Unfortunate

A few more “Relaxed Rules” that will speed play and increase enjoyment include limiting the search for a lost ball to two minutes (the USGA and R&A are proposing three); improving unfortunate lies, like, for example, the ultimate misfortune—hitting the fairway off the tee only to find your ball in a divot; and conceding short putts. Most recreational players already concede “gimme” putts, those that are within two feet or so, in casual rounds, so this change is no big stretch.

Gear it up & Capture the Flag

Got a new driver, putter, or wedge that you want to try out? Under the Golf Channel’s “Relaxed Rules” #6, go ahead and put it in your bag, and don’t worry about having more than 14 clubs. If you’re willing to lug them around, you should be able to play them all.

And while you’re on the green, go ahead and take a stab at that 60-foot birdie putt, even if no one has pulled the flagstick. Under the current rules, putting with the flagstick in would result in a penalty if the ball were to hit the flagstick; under the proposed changes, and the Golf Channel’s “Relaxed Rules”, it’s all good.

There’s more from the proposed USGA and R&A changes that falls into the category of  “common sense” relaxed rules; for instance, easing the restrictions on touching the surface of a hazard, and removing loose impediments in a hazard. A casual brush of the sand in a bunker is no longer the end of the world, though practice swings are not allowed, and contact with the sand in the line of swing, behind or in front of the ball, is still a no-no. If your ball is in a hazard, say, over the red line into a water hazard (which will now be called a “penalty area”) but still in a grassy area, you will be allowed to take practice swings, remove loose impediments, and even ground your club behind the ball, all without worry over incurring a penalty by accidentally touching a few blades of grass, or brushing a loose leaf.

Ready, Set, Go!

Last but not least, and probably the most basic pace-of-play improvement measure of all is “Play Ready Golf.” While observing honors is all well and good in a strict tournament setting, in a fun round (when players might be spread across and up and down the length of the fairway), play when ready, as long as you are not endangering players in front of you.

Fun is a big reason why we play golf, and making these changes will not diminish the challenge—which is another reason why we play. Implementing these adjustments, even ahead of the official adoption of the USGA and R&A changes, is sure to speed up your rounds, and increase your enjoyment of the game.

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