The new golf rules: One of them could backfire

The USGA and the R&A are reviewing feedback on proposed new golf rules for 2019. Here’s the one we’re worried about.

Image of Rules of Golf bookIN OUR CASUAL, fun rounds, we’ve started implementing some of the proposed new rules. Today, the USGA and the R&A announced that they’re reviewing feedback, and most of that, the announcement said, involves:

“The putting green (such as putting with the flagstick left in the hole, repairing spike marks and eliminating the penalty for accidentally moving a ball); the creation of ‘penalty areas’ (extending water hazard type relief and eliminating penalties for moving loose impediments and grounding a club); and the new dropping procedures (including the size of ‘relief areas’).”

On the record, GottaGoGolf has enthusiastically approved. According to golf’s governing bodies, the changes mean to make the rules “easier to understand and apply” and result in “pace-of-play improvements.” If we don’t have to endure tedious drop procedures that require determining exactly where a ball crossed a (sometimes invisible) line 200 yards away, we’ll play faster and have more fun swinging, chipping and putting. Golf is difficult; golf by convoluted rules is agony. Simpler rules = better rules.

Except for this one little proposal, new Rule 13.2b(3): There is no longer a penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits the unattended flagstick that was left in the hole.


The intent of this new rule is to save time when someone is continents away from the flagstick on the putting green. Competitive golfers know that if they’re putting a ball that’s on the putting surface and they hit the flagstick, that’s a two-shot penalty. So, even if they’re ready to putt, they wait for a fellow competitor to stand by the flagstick and “tend,” removing the stick as soon as they’ve struck their putt.

Imagine that your friend Sally has just hit out of the bunker into the rough short of the green, but she’s taking her time raking. You know she’ll want the pin in, but with this new rule, you too can leave the pin in. You can go ahead and putt at the flagstick and move your group along.

Will you do it? Or, will you hem and haw, thinking that you’ve always taken the flagstick out on these putts and so you should wait for Sally and then remove the flagstick for your putt?

And, how long will it take you to make this decision? Are you going to discuss it ad nauseum with your friends?

Then, suppose you are away and you decide you want the flagstick out — perhaps you haven’t read the research on this that says “leave the flagstick in whenever the Rules allow, unless the flagstick is leaning toward you” — and your friend putting next who has read the research wants the flagstick in. And your friend who is putting after that wants the flagstick back out.

Now, do you see the problem? This rule, intended to move us along, could slow us down further.

Probably, we’ll look to the pros we see on TV for cues. Ugh! Imagine the daily conversation between Jordan Spieth and his caddie, 18 times over.

GottaGoGolfers, let’s be better than that.

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  1. Susan Fornoff September 7, 2017
  2. David Hall September 7, 2017