Looking at proposed USGA rule changes in the great game of golf

The United States Golf Association has proposed a number of rules changes which, if approved, will take place beginning in 2019. According to the ruling body, the purpose of these changes is to modernize the game. The changes also should help speed up play.

Now some people likely will bemoan the idea of modernizing a game that has been around for a long time. The game has changed little and does not really need an overhaul. The rule book, however, is big and burdensome. Personally, I think some of these changes are long overdue.

So over the course of the next few weeks we will take a look at some of the proposed changes. I will analyze them and even let you know whether my friends and I have been utilizing them long before they even were a thought. I can say that anything that encourages faster play has to be a good thing.

PROPOSAL: Allowing a maximum score for a hole.

This would allow golfers to “pick up” when they have had a particularly difficult hole. Though this is not a proposal that would apply to professionals — the organizer of a tournament can have a local overrule — it would help the average golf leagues.

Many golfers will wait for some time over a putt for a triple bogey and that makes many golf rounds last forever. With a maximum score play can move faster. My guys do this already and with the handicap system we use the maximum score can vary by golfer. Depending upon how well you normally play, your maximum may be a double bogey or a quadruple bogey. Either way, the game goes faster and the golfer is saved at least some embarrassment.

PROPOSAL: The time allowed for searching for a lost ball is reduced from five minutes to three.

This one is mainly for the touring pros. Amateurs rarely keep track of how long a golfer looks for a lost ball. Some guys will look forever, as if it’s the only ball they own. Others will lose patience quickly and make the comment “they make golf balls every day,” before dropping another.

Also, some groups will use the leaf rule. That suggests that in an area with a lot of leaves on the ground, the likelihood of finding it quickly is slim. Therefore, drop another with no penalty and let’s get going.

My guys will sometimes invoke the leaf rule when there are no leaves. Hey, let’s keep the game moving!

At any rate, the rule for length of time to look for a ball will be just three minutes if this proposal is adopted.

PROPOSAL — There will be no penalty if a ball is moved when it is being searched for.

Part of the reason the search for a lost ball on tour took so long was people were being careful to not disturb the ball if they did find it. This rule goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Now anyone can go slogging through the briar patch (or wherever an errant shot ends up) with reckless abandon. If the ball is stepped on, so what, it has been found.

Now this new proposal will also call for the ball to be replaced in its original spot — without penalty — if the spot can be determined. If that spot is questionable, then guess.

PROPOSAL — It will no longer be acceptable for opposite side relief from a lateral water hazard.

Now here’s one that will not appeal to most golfers because the old rule frequently gave golfers an advantage. The current rule allows a player to take relief from a lateral water hazard on either side of said hazard. An example would be the sixth hole at Loudon Meadows.

The par 5 makes you cross the same stream twice. Getting over the water initially is not a problem, but if you slice the ball the same creek comes into play as it turns toward the green. If you want, you can take your penalty and drop the ball to the right side of the water and have a direct shot into the green. You do not have to cross the hazard again, nor do you have to deal with the trees that line the water near the green.

This proposal will make you drop the ball on the same side the ball entered the hazard. The USGA feels you should not be rewarded for hitting a bad shot.

I doubt this rule will make much difference to most local golfers for one primary reason. I’m guessing most golfers didn’t know they had the “either side” option in the first place!

These are just a few rule proposals. We will look at some of the others as the season wears on. For now let me reiterate my thoughts on rule changes that will speed up the pace of play.

Having to wait on every single shot because the foursome in front of mine is so slow is the second-worst thing for me to experience on the golf course. So speeding up play with some of these proposals is great.

And what is the worst thing for me? Being in the foursome that is holding up everyone behind us…

Al Stephenson is The A-T’s golf columnist.

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