Everyone is confident the new Rules of Golf will improve pace of play. So why, asks Colin Callander, have CONGU backtracked on stroke and distance?
There is no doubt that slow play is one of the major problems facing the game of golf at the present time.
It is seen as an issue at almost every club I visit which is why it is disappointing to learn that the Council of National Golf Unions – better known as CONGU, the body that operates our handicap system – is insisting a new local rule which provides an alternative to the existing stroke and distance penalty when you lose a ball or hit a ball out-of-bounds must not be used in counting competitions.
Those readers who have not had the opportunity to browse the new Rules of Golf which will come into effect on January 1 might like to know this local rule gives club committees the option of allowing golfers to drop a ball under a two-stroke penalty in the vicinity of where their previous ball was lost or went out-of-bounds.
I can understand why this new local rule should not be used in professional and elite amateur competitions but at club level it seems preferable to forcing golfers to trudge all the way back to the spot where they hit their previous shot and is also entirely in keeping with the ethos behind the new Rules of Golf.
I spent a good deal of time reading the excellent new Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf and have reached the conclusion that one of the best things about the new Rules is that they were designed, in part at least, to improve pace of play.
One example of that comes in the new Rule 6b in which there is a recommendation that players play ready golf in strokeplay competitions. That is something that has been trialled at several elite R&A amateur events with considerable success.
Among the recommendations are that golfers should hit a shot, when safe to do so, if a player further away faces a difficult shot and is still assessing his options. It also calls for shorter hitters to play their tee shots if a longer hitter is having to wait and for players to hit their own shots before helping a playing partner to look for a lost ball. There is no definition of ready golf, but there does not need to be because it is all comes under the heading of simple common sense.
Ready golf has already been proven to speed up play and there is no doubt the decision to cut the time allowed to look for a lost ball from five minutes to three will also have the same effect. If you assume that in an average fourball each player looks for a ball three times during a round, that means a total of 24 minutes could be saved. I know numerous players who hit more errant shots than that, in which case the saving might even be greater.
I am slightly concerned that the new rule allowing golfers to repair spike marks and other damage on the intended line of their putts might have an adverse effect on pace of play but the fact the flagstick no longer has to removed or attended when putting will counter that as will the decision to ban caddies from helping their players to line up their shots.
Clearly the latter applies more to professional golf – and specifically women’s professional golf where the practice is rife – but on a broader level will appeal to all of us who harbour the firm belief that lining up a shot is an integral part of the sport and should be part of the skill set that each individual player is required to possess.
There is very likely to be teething troubles as golfers come to terms with the changes to the Rules but if, in time, they are seen to do what they are designed to do, to simplify and speed up the game, that has got to be a good a good thing.
Now all we have got to do is to ask CONGU to enter into the same spirit and do their bit as well.
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