Golf needs to open its rulebook this Christmas

Tommy Snell
Tommy Snell

Unwrap those 2019 Rules of Golf early. Why not? Serious, competitive golfers who plan to play in USGA or state association events might want to stop reading. However, recreational golfers who love the game and value competing against buddies for Nassaus, skins and round robins, read on!

Unless golfers have been in unplayable lies for the past year, they are aware that the Rules of Golf most likely will undergo a radical change a year from now. Why wait? Unwrap the new procedures on Rules Change Eve. Practice makes perfect, and more important, a year-long dress rehearsal of the 2019 rules will speed up the game.

Leave the flagstick in. You’re 40 feet from the hole, and it’s your turn to play. Play on! Don’t wait for someone to attend the pole in the hole. Chances are that the ball won’t come close anyway. Great rule change.

Search on, but only for three minutes. I’ve been a part of those searches that last 20 minutes, clearly a breach of this year’s and next year’s rules, and it’s frustrating. Golfers hate to give up on a golf ball search, which in 2019 will be shortened to three minutes. I’m not in complete agreement on this one, but the rule will certainly speed up play when officials are present. Recreational play, not so much.

The putting green is no longer taboo! Fix spike marks or other damage. Touch the line of putt. Did you accidentally move your ball on the putting green? No problem. Just make sure that you replace it. A special note: if you have marked and replaced your ball on the putting green, you will always replace the ball if it moves, even if wind caused the movement. For the obsessive-compulsive golfer who has to fix every imperfection, I’m not sure when to start the clock.

Penalty areas have relaxed rules as well. Penalties have been removed for touching loose impediments in a penalty area. In fact, golfers will be able to move loose impediments in these areas and ground their clubs. However, in bunkers, golfers will not be able to ground their clubs close to the golf ball or to take practice swings.

In case you haven’t figured it out, these rules should speed up the game and make the game more enjoyable for the masses. A word of caution: if you are a purist, wait a year. Also, if you plan to practice 2019 protocol, make sure that everyone in the group is on the same page in the Rules of Golf. No arguments, please.

Tommy Snell, golf coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, writes a regular column for the Sun Herald.