Golf’s 99% Need A Little Love

There’s been quite a bit in the golf news about John Solheim’s proposal for three different golf ball standards: thirty yards shorter, regular, and thirty yards longer. I think he’s on to something in that equipment standards (and perhaps rules) for the pros and elite amateur tournaments don’t need to be—and in my mind probably shouldn’t be—the same as for the weekend hacker. If your intention is to work your way up to top competition, then by all means play as the big boys do. But for the rest (the 99% if you will), the game would be a lot more enjoyable with a little leniency.

Longstanding rumors say that the USGA is working toward rolling back ball flight. I can see the application in elite competition. But I think it would be a disaster for the sport of golf in general, making an already difficult game even moreso for the vast majority of hackers who don’t play for trophies. Imagine the disgust of the occasional weekender who hits a 200 yard drive (200 yards is actually the average drive length) with the current technology, finding that he’s now hitting it 180 thanks to USGA rules changes.

I don’t think that would end on a positive note. Mr. Occasional might very well give up golf for other pursuits.

At one level I’m actually sort of surprised that public course owners haven’t banded together to promote a separate standard. Tougher equipment and playing rules make it tougher to fill up tee times.

The rules would be easy enough to fix. A change to the stroke-and-distance-on-lost-balls rule would be a great starting point. Play would speed up; everyone would be happier. And how about a rule allowing the flagstick to be left in the hole? That’d speed up play on the greens, as it both eliminates elaborate flag pulling rituals and makes putting easier (there’s statistical evidence to back the notion that leaving the flag in makes chipping and putting easier). And incidentally, both of these have been part of the game in the past.

Aside from equipment enforcement, the average golfer has no personal contact with the USGA or its competitions. Most don’t even maintain an “official” handicap. They do, however, come into regular contact with their local PGA Professional through the shop, lessons, outings and so forth. Following this line of logic, I’ve long wondered why the PGA hasn’t taken the lead in protecting its clients and livelihood (courses full of happy hackers equals jobs for PGA Pros).

Here’s my proposal: USGA rules and standards for competitors and would-be competitors; PGA rules and standards for everyone else.

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