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Break The Rules, Enjoy The Game

The Rules of GolfBrandel Chamblee former PGA tour player and current commentator for the Golf Channel recently vented about the belly putter:

“I don’t think there’s any place for it. There shouldn’t be any place for it in professional golf,” Chamblee said. “When you consider all of the mistakes it allows you to alleviate; the infinite number of places you can go wrong with the stroke … for example, the stroke can go out to in or vice versa. Having said that, none of the top -10 players on this tour use the belly putter, and only four in the top-50 use it. But I don’t agree it should be used professionally. There should be two sets of rules, one where it can be used recreationally, but not in tour golf.”

This got me thinking. With all the recent publicity “Tee it Forward” has received, and the obvious attempts by major OEM’s and golf associations to encourage new players to enjoy the game, why have the rules never been looked at as an area requiring revision?

Let’s face it, a very small percentage of golfers follow every rule to a tee (pun intended). Truth be told, many of the new players to the game are not aware of many of the rules of the game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, the rules of golf are there for a reason (most of them anyway), but if the game is meant to be fun, maybe it’s time to relax them a little bit.  I understand the need to establish a set of rules to develop consistent handicaps, but the players we’re talking about here are doing nothing but learn the game (and likely slowing down the course doing so abiding by these rules).

Some may argue that relaxing the rules may limit the “life-lessons” golf has to teach us and our kids – like the value of humility, perseverance, self-control, and honesty. But I have to disagree. Golf can’t thrive if it is served up like the medicine that tastes awful but is “good for you”. It needs to be fun, and some of the rules make it the opposite.

In this post, I take a closer look at the rulebook and highlight ones that detract from new players having fun out there.  Here’s my little list of un-fun rules I’d like to relax for recreational players or those who are simply out to have a good time.

Play the ball where it lies… C’mon, the pristine, manicured courses the pros play, where an inch of rough is called “punitive” is not where I get to play. If I hit a great drive down the middle of the fairway and find my ball on a grassless piece of dirt, or worse yet, in a divot, next to a rock or in the track of a thoughtless cart driver, I am moving it to a nearby piece of dry grass. No penalty. How about greens that are not quite billiard table smooth? Finding an equidistant line to the hole to avoid a craters or serious spike mark is perfectly fine. No penalty.

Lost ball, or out-of-bounds… Nuts. How many times have you seen a pro slice or hook a ball way off line only have an army of searchers find it, or to see it show up in the next fairway (because there is no rough) or better yet see it bounce off a spectator back onto the fairway. On my courses, a ball a little off line is in the woods – thick woods with heavy underbrush. It’s not coming back. Whether you find your ball or not, dropping a ball at the point of entry, taking a stroke (you would have chipped it out if you could) and move on. Stroke and distance penalties are unduly harsh and demoralizing.

Unexplained Lost Ball… We’ve all had this happen. You hit a great shot that just disappears. Whether that’s off the tee, or towards the green – in our books, if it’s a case of “that ball shouldn’t be lost” you should get a free drop and play on.

Yellow Staked Hazards… A water hazard is a water hazard. You should be able to drop a ball outside any hazard within two club-lengths of the point of entry no matter what kind of stakes are around it.

What club did you use? Give me a break… This is a violation of Rule 8-1 of the USGA as is “How far do you think that is?” A player must not ask for advice from anyone in competition other than his caddie or playing partner. Golf preaches respect for the rulebook, yet claims to be trying to grow the game, well, how stupid is this? Let’s penalize friends, wives, and kids who are trying to learn the game because they asked reasonable questions.

Ball moves after you address it… Big deal. You nudged it with you putter, a blade of grass bent when you grounded your iron, or gravity finally overcame friction and the ball rolled downhill. This is a penalty? In no way have you significantly improved your lie or given yourself an advantage… so just play the ball and carry on.

A “gimme” in stroke play… Absolutely, that’s what friends are for. A mulligan every now and again, sure, when you hit a painfully bad, out-of-character shot. What do you learn from punishing yourself when you are out there to have fun? How much more do you learn by hitting a confidence-building, sweet, second-chance shot exactly as you originally planned?

Grounding your club in a hazard… For beginners, the sand is their worst enemy. They simply don’t have the feel required to hit a consistent shot starting from a “hover” over the ball. Same goes for hitting from inside water hazard stakes (not really recommended for beginners anyway).

The golden rule for having more fun on the golf course? Don’t make “par” the only standard of success. Golf is a really hard game to play well, scratch players are a tiny percentage of the golfing population. In my opinion, they are the only ones who should adhere to the letter of the USGA Rulebook. I have seen too many 20+ handicap players who play it by the book and look miserable. The rest of us should adopt rules that speed up play, enhance our self-esteem and make us feel good after a round.

As always we would like to hear your opinion, do you follow the rulebook to the letter? Or, do you even keep score?

3 Comments

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  1. you dont give your self strokes for lost balls? that’s a joke. I’d be shoting 70’s and 80’s instead of 90’s and the odd 100 if i followed “your” rules. the whole point of the game is to be honest with yourself. if you dont like it, then dont keep score at all.

  2. I agree with the ball that is obviously in play but “lost” in the fairway. This happens mostly in the fall months when leaves swallow the ball in plain sight.

    Matter of fact I agree with most all your points…If you are not being paid to play the game why suffer from such antiquated rules

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