We’re approaching the season’s last rites – the first under the new Rules of Golf. So how have they gone down at club level?
It’s September. The Rules of Golf – it seems weird referring to them as ‘new’ anymore – are into their ninth month and we’re all still here to tell the tale.
We’ve had almost a full season to bed them in and as the leaves brown, the temperatures cool, and the spectre of winter golf seems not too far away, it’s an appropriate time to take a breath and consider how we’ve all been getting on.
So let’s look at five of the regulations that came in on January 1 – the ones that seemed to have most relevance to us in our weekly competitions – and assess their impact.
1. The knee high drop
How we all made something so easy look so difficult. There were all sorts of gymnastics during the first few weeks. Bent backs, bent knees – it was like watching trapeze.
Remember what we all said? It was going to stop older people playing because they wouldn’t be able to get down, or get back up again.
“It was “f****** stupid,” a pal told me in our first competition back as he tried again and again to locate an area that was approximately round his knee.
Fast forward and everyone’s taking a knee-high drop like there were never any other arrangements in place.
Even Rickie Fowler’s got the hang of it.
Verdict: Nothing more to see here.
2. Putting with the flagstick in
England Golf’s director of competitions, James Crampton, reckons this has had an impact on round times at elite amateur level.
But if it’s having a beneficial effect at the top, I’m now not too sure it’s doing what it said on the tin for the rank-and-file.
If you play in a regular group, it’s all right as you’ve got to know everyone’s tendencies and what they like. Add a couple of new people into the mix and you’re playing an elaborate dance.
‘After you. No, after you.’
I’ve got to the point where, unless I’m a football field away from the hole, I generally take it out.
This is part preference and part hole preservation. At Sandburn Hall, where I play most of my competitions, our flagsticks are a little thicker than most.
It’s pretty difficult to take the ball out of the hole without taking part of the cup with you.
I’ve seen some shocking examples of holes damaged by careless hands or, worse, from those who use the putter to retrieve their balls.
Verdict: The jury is still out.
3. Repairing spike marks
Do any of us actually do this? I’d honestly like to know. If there’s a big old footprint right on my line I might give it the odd tap but there’s not much gardening going on.
Critics said this would make the game slower as we’d be forever traipsing round the putting surface looking for imaginary imperfections.
I don’t know what it says about us as club players but it appears we just can’t be bothered. Given that we don’t even look at a putt from anywhere but straight down the line, though, is that a surprise?
Verdict: A lot of fuss about nothing.
4. Grounding your club in a penalty area
I loved this rule change and I’ve been dying to put it into practice but I just haven’t found any situation this season where it’s been relevant.
Perhaps it’s been the deluge of rain we’ve had at times this summer but whenever I’ve been anywhere near some water it’s just been a straight drop.
That said, it was a cause of conflict on at least one occasion on our hallowed turf when a player left the course after being incorrectly challenged when a practice swing brought with it some H2O.
For anyone who is still unsure, you can ground your club – whether it’s a practice swing or a stroke – just as you would if your ball was in the general area.
Verdict: Not in a hurry to try this out.
5. Three minutes to look for a ball
I’ve seen some very generous interpretations of what constitutes three minutes.
Some clever clogs have been delaying their arrival to the ball as late as possible – in the hope their playing partners get their first and they can squeeze a few extra seconds.
But, generally, this rule appears to have had a positive impact. Yes, players are probably taking longer than they should but unless you come armed with a stopwatch who can definitely say whether something is three minutes or not?
They’re also, in my experience, hitting more provisionals – because they know they’ve got less time to find a ball and they’re also willing to accept a ball is lost far earlier than they may have done in the past.
Remember when you’d be trying to tell someone their five minutes was up, when you suspected you’d probably spent closer to 10 on a fruitless search? At least those days are at an end.
Verdict: Time to move on.
Which of the ‘new’ Rules of Golf have had the most impact on your game and which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me.