Tar Heel Golf Notes: April 2017

Henry A. Lister
Carolinas Golf Association Rater

The USGA and the R&A (Royal & Ancient Golf Club) again have conspired to mess with the game of golf by proposing 30 changes to the rules of golf. Okay, this is a provocative way of stating it because they do it every four years.

The recent proposals, however, represent the most comprehensive set of changes ever! There are so many fundamental changes to the rules that it is difficult to digest them all and understand how they will affect the game.

To be clear, of the 30 suggested changes 11 involve rules where the player controls the location or placement of the ball. In effect, players would be given significant control over the lie of the ball, eroding the fundamental maxim of “playing it where it lies.” You can see the full list, with video explanations, on the USGA website. Here are a couple I think are significant.

Embedded ball—Currently the only time when a ball embedded in the ground can be extracted is when the ball is in the fairway, or close mown areas. The proposed rule allows for lifting and placing it ANYWHERE except bunkers. This is in the main a sensible adjustment but the ball should be dropped, not placed. The rough is intended to be a more difficult lie and placing the ball in the rough gives a possible advantage.

Dropping a ball—This proposed change really rubs me the wrong way. Currently when dropping a ball to obtain relief it must be dropped from shoulder height. This attempts to recreate a natural resting place for the ball as might occur when concluding its flight. The proposed change allows for dropping the ball from ONE INCH above the ground. Really, one inch? At that “height” why not just get it over with and allow the player to place it?? What this loses is the aspect of a ball coming to rest on its own against the ground. I find this a real violation of the spirit of the game, where there is an interaction between ball and ground. This changes the element of fate and instead gives the player too much control of the ball.

Loose impediments in a hazard—Another proposed change would allow for the removal of sticks, rocks and other loose items in a hazard. Currently the removal of any impeding material (except for stones in a bunker, which still irks me) would result in a penalty for improving your lie. Wait, WHAT?? That is the nature of a hazard, that is why that area is considered a hazard because there is nasty, gnarly stuff in there and you are expected to deal with it. I recall reading that Ben Hogan believed that a bunker should never be raked because in doing so you would be improving a hazard, as a bunker is. Raking a bunker is the only situation in which a hazard is im­proved after you’ve played out of it. Now, the proposed rule change allows for the improvement of a hazard WHILE you are in it. Bad idea IMHO.

Other proposed changes include being able to leave the flag stick in the hole when putting (a terrible idea), reducing from 5 to 3 minutes the time you can look for a missing ball (a very good idea), moving a ball out of a bunker with a 2-stroke penalty (a Godsend to some of my bunker-afflicted friends) and allowing for the use of distance measuring de­vices (welcome to the 20th century). In fact, many of the rule changes proposed are reasonable and acceptable yet still worthy of discussion and serious contemplation. I’d be happy to join any of my gentle readers in a rules debate over adult libations in any 19th hole.

Hobbit Golfer 2017 index: 18 rounds. Aver­age score 83, CGA handicap = 6.5. You are meant to play the ball as it lies, a fact that may help to touch on your own objective ap­proach to life. —Grantland Rice.