On Antiquated Rules

In the wake of Bunkergate, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the Lords of the USGA need to take another look at the Rules of Golf, which seem to many to be unduly obscure and penal.

I find it strange that the debate was caused by Johnson’s misfortune, however. I don’t know of anyone who thinks you should be able to ground a club in a hazard. In my mind, that error was one of course setup, not of the rules.

That said, I think I would change four rules for the benefit of the average player on the average course:

The first is to change the penalty for a lost or out of bounds ball from stoke and distance to penalty and drop at the point of exit. That’s the way most golfers I know play anyway—even the ones who religiously keep a handicap. Further, it’s the only realistic thing to do on crowded public courses. You could get pummeled by the group behind you for returning to the previous spot … and hitting provisionals isn’t going to endear you, either. It’s just practical.

The second is to allow players a free drop from damaged areas through the green. Most of us don’t play on the grass carpets that the Lords of the USGA enjoy. At the end of the season, many public fairways look like the surface of the moon. Between sunburned, unseeded area and deep unrepaired divots, playing it as it lies is a ridiculous notion.

Third: This is a longtime peeve that I’ve written about before—you should get a free drop from poison ivy, or other suspicious-looking woodland areas. Players get relief from alligators and fire ants. Why not from poison ivy and suspected rattlesnake dens? The Lords of the USGA obviously have never played a woodland area in Up North Michigan, or this would already be in the rules.

And finally a “change” which isn’t so much of a change as a re-emphasis. More attention should be paid to the spirit of rule 1-4: If any point in dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision should be made in accordance with equity.

More decisions should be made with an eye to the notion of equity—“the state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.” Emphasis on “fair.”

What rules would you change?

5 thoughts on “On Antiquated Rules”

  1. I think the same thing on pretty much every rule you recommended.  On OB, I think 2 strokes and drop at point of exit is more in keeping with the spirit of the current rule…that would mean you were hitting your 4th shot on a OB drive, which you normally would be anyway.

    I’d like to see 2 more rule changes.  One being the “wind blown ball” rule.  Since the player has no control, it shouldn’t be a penalty.  Also, the spike mark rule…same thinking.

  2. I agree with all the above.

    Personally, I do not agree with the penalty assessed once you are standing over a putt and a gust of wind moves it before it’s struck by the putter (at least I thought I remember a tour player being assessed a penalty for that).


  3. You are only penalized for a ball moving because of the wind if you both take a stance and ground your club.  Many players hover the club head on windy days rather than ground their putter specifically to avoid this.  I find it hard to do but I have done so a few times when the conditions are tough.

    My concern with the multitude of rules and allied “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” is the implication that golfers are not honest and will take advantage of gray areas.  For example, the situation where the wind moves your ball on the green.  If I thought I moved the ball I am okay with taking a penalty.  However, the rule takes my judgment away as to whether I moved the ball or the wind did.  Once I take my stance and ground the club the USGA/R&A says I moved the ball.  The rule was made to stick it to the guy who actually did move his ball but tries to blame it on the wind.  However, as written, it penalizes everyone.

    The dishonest golfer is going to take advantage of situations regardless of the rules.  No matter how stringent the rules, one can circumvent the intent.  Write the rules for those of us who will actually attempt to follow them.

  4. I like the lost ball idea Oliver. That also would speed things up.

    I think the dangerous plants and animals things could be handled by a clause which offers a free drop if playing partners agree that the resting spot of the ball is in an area likely to be hazardous.

  5. I need to read the rule book again. are the usga rules the same as the R&A?

    i totally agree with your take on OOB, anything to speed up play on a sunday and allow people to keep a fair score without breaking the rules.

    I would probably add to it though, because sometimes you loose a ball in an area you and playing partners thought you would find it (not out of bounds). in which case droping the ball where it was last seen on it’s trajectory with a penalty stroke would be nice. (or something like that)

    regarding your peeve about poisonous plants and possible wildlife inhabitats, I’m thinking that should be a LOCAL RULE? because if they have to repertoriate all the possible deadly animal dens and poisonous plants throughout the golfing world … we’re in for a long one …


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: