The Great Rule Reformation


So, you carry a 16 handicap index into your next round. Your goal for the season is to break 80 for the first time. It’s Saturday morning, you’re relaxed, the birds are chirping, the weather is perfect and your game is clicking. You’ve made it around the front nine with a career best 38. The back nine is tougher, but you get to hole 17 at only 6 over par. If you finish par-bogey or bogey-par, you’ve accomplished your goal and are feeling great about yourself and golf in general (Disclaimer: I don’t advocate thinking this way on the course. One shot at a time folks). You hit your tee shot on 17 well, but it’s hugging the right hazard. You and your playing partners are fairly certain it’s alive.


Uh oh. No one can find it. You vigorously search everywhere, heart rate increasing with each passing second. You can’t find it anywhere, and you’re not “virtually certain” the ball went in the hazard. The fastest five minutes of your life is over. What do you do? The course is packed and players are stacking up on the tee behind you. You’re walking. According to the rules (and in order to even post your score), you need to now take the longest 5 minute walk of your life, stroll back to the tee, take your penalty, most likely double bogey or worse and lose your shot at 79. What if you instead drop a ball, take a stroke and continue? I certainly don’t have a problem with it, but the rules do. Unfortunately, that 79* will always come with an asterisk.


Finally, the USGA and R&A (Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) are coming together to make the most sweeping rule change reformation since Martin Luther in 1517 (that’s a bit much, sorry). In reality, this has been a long time coming. Attention spans are short, time is money and all the major sports are taking steps to make their respective games faster.


The current USGA rule book has 34 rules (they are attempting to cut down to 24). Doesn’t sound too complicated, until you pick up Decisions on the Rules of Golf, a 600-page tome with rules such as 24-2b/15.3, aka Opening Barn Doors to Play Shot Through Barn (yes, you may as they are considered a movable obstruction). The governing bodies of golf are attempting to make the game faster, less complicated and more fun. I’m all for it.


Some of the proposals include:


  • No penalty for accidentally moving your ball while searching or on the green
  • Time for a ball search from 5 to 3 minutes
  • Players can repair any damage on the green
  • Number of strokes on a given hole could be “maxed,” meaning PICK IT UP after a certain number of shots
  • Players can drop a ball anywhere as low as 1-inch off the ground


Of course, we’re fully aware the vast majority of players don’t fully abide by the Rules of Golf, and that’s OK. During a casual round, it’s perfectly fine to drop a ball where it went OB. Chances are, many of these rule changes won’t really affect your usual play. We’ll see how it all works out, and although they’re not necessarily overhauling the stroke and distance rule previously mentioned, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Please let us know your thoughts!