My golf buddy and I took advantage of spring-like conditions on New Year’s Day to lock horns and put the new rules to the test on our local course. The idea, or part of it, is to speed up play, and we got round in a little over 3 hours. This had less to do with any rule change than the fact that the course was empty.
We often do double hits (and sometimes trebles) but on this occasion didn’t. Removing the penalty is bound to be a controversial change, deplored by good golfers who rarely suffer from the affliction, and approved by bad ones. I like the change. There’s often doubt about whether a double-hit has or hasn’t been committed, and it’s a frequent cause of ill feeling and awkwardness in a social game. Taking away the penalty removes the problem. It’s not as if anyone is going to double-hit on purpose. And the change brings golf into line with tennis.
As it happened, our ball searches didn’t threaten the new 3 minute deadline. An absence of long grass is one of the consolations of winter golf. On balance the rule change seems good, and will no doubt generate lively conversation and intense clock watching on competition days. In social games, most golfers will continue to ignore it as they always have. Not so sure about the new provision for allowing a stroke-and-distance drop on the fairway after a lost ball, in social golf but not in serious competition.
Our main focus, as always in golf, was the flagstick. We decided to adopt the ‘de Chambeau’ policy and leave the stick in at all times. This saved a lot of toing and froing and trampling of the grass around the hole and our putting lines, which must be a good thing. However, there is an argument that if someone wants the flag in and someone else prefers it out, there may actually be more toing and froing and trampling ….
Feedback from the clubhouse – and from professionals competing on tour – is that most people are continuing to do what they are used to: take the flag out for short putts; have it attended – in which case it must still always be removed, I gather – for long ones. Before deciding, the leave-nothing-to-chance golfer will now wish to establish if the stick is made of metal or some more absorbent material. And should we invest in expensive soft golf balls in order to reduce the risk of bounce-back?
I did notice that my opponent hit putts harder than usual in order to test the de Chambeau theory that the ball will bounce in more often than it bounces out after hitting the stick …. but missed the hole and often raced past beyond gimme range: results inconclusive. I left most of my putts short as usual.
Yesterday we played again and found ourselves stuck behind a four-ball of slow-moving gents who showed no sign of having read or digested the letter or spirit of the new rules or for that matter the old ones. All the usual delaying tactics were on display: lengthy practice routines before and in one case after hitting the ball; no sign of ‘ready golf’; much prevarication and dithering on and around the green. Yet they were always quick to leave the tee, without a backward glance to acknowledge or interact with the golfers behind them.