Golf is difficult and time-consuming, and can be expensive.
These perceived drawbacks are inherent and generally have to be accepted by those who play the game.
The fact that golf is complicated is a self-inflicted wound, one that the governing bodies of the game have finally decided to address.
The USGA and R&A – the two organizations that set the rules of the game – announced proposed comprehensive rules changes last week that are generally designed to make the rules easier to both understand and apply, and are long overdue.
Because of the breadth of the Rules of Golf and affiliated decisions on them over the years, playing the game by the rules has become quite confusing.
“They definitely took some big leaps. These weren’t little tweaks, they were major changes to the rules,” said Lew Gach, rules of golf instructor at the Golf Academy of America’s Myrtle Beach campus and co-chairman of the rules committee for the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship.
“I think it will help the game as a whole,” Gach continued. “It will make it so it doesn’t appear to be so strict and stodgy it will hopefully attract new players to the game when the rules are there to try to make the game fun rather than make the game difficult.”
If we’re being honest, many if not the majority of golfers already employ many of the proposed rules changes that relax penalties, such as repairing spike marks on greens, relief for all embedded balls with the exception of in sand, treating most hazards as lateral hazards and stopping at a maximum score per hole.
“I think it was time to drag the rules kicking and screaming into the 20th century,” Gach said. “I think this is a good start. They have obviously put a lot of thought into these rules.”
The more than 30 suggested changes are only proposals for now. The USGA and R&A are welcoming and encouraging feedback on the proposals through Aug. 31, after which they will make an evaluation before finalizing the new rules for an announcement likely in early 2018 and implementation on Jan. 1, 2019. Golfers can submit their thoughts at usga.org/rules, or by calling 908-326-1850 or writing the USGA.
Many of the new rules, including playing “ready golf” and a maximum score, are designed to improve pace of play.
Others fall under the category of common sense.
Bifurcation, with separate rules for professionals and amateurs, was reportedly discussed but it was deemed that separate rules would make things more complicated rather than more simple.
Among the proposed new rules:
▪ There is no penalty for accidentally moving a ball or ball marker on the green. Simply replace the ball.
▪ If a ball has been lifted and replaced on the green and it moves because of a natural occurrence or no clear reason, replace the ball without penalty.
▪ Just about any damage to a putting green can be repaired, including spike marks but excluding natural imperfections.
▪ A player or caddie can touch the line of a putt to indicate a target without improving the conditions for the stroke.
▪ The flagstick can be left in the hole for a putt on a green and there is no penalty for the ball striking it.
▪ Red and yellow hazard stakes can be placed in areas throughout the course that don’t include water, incurring a one-stroke penalty for a drop from those areas.
▪ In hazard areas, a club or hand can be grounded and loose impediments can be moved without penalty, though grounding the club in a practice swing or immediately in front of or behind the ball would still be prohibited so as not to reduce the challenge of playing from the sand/hazard.
▪ Committees are allowed to mark all hazard areas red so lateral relief is always allowed. Yellow hazard stakes require a drop behind the hazard line.
▪ Relief from a bunker is allowed, incurring a two-stroke penalty.
▪ Players are penalized for a ball moving only if they are virtually certain they caused the ball to move. The rule currently uses a more than 50 percent probability.
▪ There is no penalty for moving a ball while searching for it. The ball must be replaced.
▪ There is no penalty if a ball accidentally strikes the player, a caddie, an opponent, equipment, etc., and is then played where it lies. Players can’t intentionally carom balls off people or equipment.
▪ Drops don’t require shoulder-length height and the area for a drop is a set size of 20 inches or 80 inches rather than club lengths.
▪ Searches for lost balls drop from 5 minutes to 3 minutes.
▪ A ball can be substituted when taking relief.
▪ Relief for embedded balls is allowed anywhere on the course with the exception of a sand trap, though a local rule can include bunkers.
▪ Video review won’t be used to second-guess a drop if it was made in good faith.
▪ Distance-measuring devices can always be used.
▪ Damaged clubs can be used during a round, but can’t be replaced unless the player was not involved in the damage.
▪ A maximum score per hole can be set in an alternative form of stroke play or by a committee.
▪ Provisional shots can be declared and played following a search for the original ball.
Not all of the proposed changes benefit players. Some are more restrictive. They include not allowing players to drop on the opposite side of a hazard from where a ball entered the hazard or replace misshapen balls on a hole, and caddies not being allowed to help players line up, which is a common practice on the LPGA Tour.
I believe the USGA and R&A whiffed on some of the proposals.
Some of the rules seem to contradict their stated goal of making the rules less complicated, and some still leave too much to interpretation.
One allows players to listen to music or watch news or sporting events during a round as long as it is for entertainment only and doesn’t give a player an advantage i.e. listening to music to improve a swing rhythm or to relax. So players with an elevated sense of rhythm would be forbidden from listening to music while players without an inherent sense of rhythm would be allowed to jam out? Should we have a pre-round dance off to determine who would benefit from music?
“I think that rule is probably coming to the realization that people listening to music on the golf course is going to be a distraction more than it’s going to be a benefit,” Gach said. “That’s part of dragging the game kicking and screaming into the 20th century. You didn’t have to worry about someone listening to music on the course in the early 1900s.
“But this one is ripe for a decision to get some clarifications out.”
The removing of loose impediments in hazards might give some players the freedom to house clean around their ball. I believe the penalties of hitting into a hazard should include the conditions of the hazard.
Regarding rules where video can’t be used to penalize a player for a misplaced drop if the drop was made in good faith, it puts the onus on a rules official to determine a player’s intentions. There seems to be too much of a potentially controversial gray area here.
The drop is a significant area of change. It would be allowed from any height. “They have discussed for years eliminating the need for dropping altogether and just allowing the placement of the ball,” Gach said. “This still includes some randomness in how the ball gets back into play.”
A drop area of 20 inches replaces one club length for drops without penalties, and 80 inches for drops with penalty strokes – it had been one club length and two club lengths, respectively. The USGA expects players to mark 20 inches and 40 inches on a club shaft for use in measurements. That seems more complicated than one club length or two. “I’m not aware of problems with club lengths,” Gach said.
While the new rules would give World Am participants fewer violations to be concerned about, Gach doesn’t believe there would be any fewer disqualifications. Most of those have been based on scorecard violations, which were addressed in 2016 when the USGA lessened penalties for players who turned in incorrect scorecards based on a rules breach they did not know occurred.
“I don’t know if it will have a large impact on the World Am,” Gach said. “I think the [scorecard] change they made … will have more of a dramatic effect on the World Am than the proposed rules.”
Though some of the proposed rules still need tweaking, the USGA and R&A should be applauded for trying to make golf less penal.
“The rules making process is similar to the sausage making process. If you saw it, you wouldn’t want anything to do with it,” Gach said.
Crow Creek to renovate
The operators of Crow Creek Golf Club enjoy offering bentgrass greens, so they are going against the predominant trend in the Myrtle Beach golf market to replace bent greens with an ultradwarf Bermudagrass.
Crow Creek is scheduled to close on June 1 for a renovation project that will include the changing of its greens, which will be redone with bentgrass.
The Rick Robbins design still has the original L93 bentgrass greens it opened with in 2000, and course operators have narrowed their list to three possibilities as a replacement grass, including an updated strain of L93 that is designed to be more heat-tolerant and recover from ball marks more quickly than its predecessor.
“It will be a chance for us to be a little more unique,” Crow Creek head pro Jimmy Biggs said. “Everyone else is going to Bermuda and we think we know bent pretty well.”
Once a prevalent and preferred putting surface on Grand Strand courses, bentgrass has consistently been replaced by ultradwarf Bermudagrasses with their proliferation over the past 15 years, leaving less than 10 Strand courses with bent greens.
Bent is considered a superb putting surface with minimal grain, but it’s a cool-weather grass so it tends to become stressed in the summer months. Bermuda is a warm-weather grass that goes dormant in colder months, and is either overseeded or allowed to be played on through dormancy.
The nursery green at Crow Creek was used to test seven different strains of bentgrass.
“We were extremely thorough and now we’re trying to determine which one will give us the longest performance,” Biggs said. “We’re trying to do something that will be good for us year-round.”
Crow Creek’s green contours, which feature some severe undulation, won’t be altered. “There’s a lot of character in those greens,” Biggs said. “There are some relatively easy shots here and those greens with all those undulations are the only defense some of those holes have.”
Superintendent Joe Jamison, who has been at Crow Creek since its opening, will oversee the renovations.
The course is not scheduled to reopen until early October, and other improvements will be made during the down time.
Drainage will be improved in several areas including some fairways and green fringes in an attempt to allow carts on fairways more often, and repair or renovation work will also be done on the concrete cart paths, wooden bridges, landscaping, a few tee boxes, the cart barn that is contained in the clubhouse, and the restaurant. The course’s bunkers were rebuilt two years ago.
“With all these changes we think we’ll be unique and in the top condition of golf courses in the area,” Biggs said.
Biggs said a grand reopening event for people in the area golf industry will precede a reopening to the public.
March event concluding
The third annual 54-hole March Championship hosted by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday continues through Tuesday and features 185 players from 27 states, ranging from California to Maine.
Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club, Founders Club at Pawleys Island, Glen Dornoch and Sandpiper Bay hosted rounds Sunday and Monday in the individual net stroke play tournament, and Tiger’s Eye and True Blue are hosting the final rounds Tuesday.
The event is part of Golf Holiday’s year-long tournaments series that includes the World Am.