We're still looking for ways to get 18 holes in a touch quicker. Next on our hitlist: the rough
I recently welcomed the new rule allowing the flagstick to be left in, principally on the basis that it was a logical and simple way to speed up play. My subject this time is an equally simple proposal – manage the rough!
I was once a member of a club so in love with its head greenkeeper that he was also appointed Chairman of Green. The principle reason for this admiration was that he was also the county champion, renowned particularly for his accuracy from the tees.
The more perceptive readers will anticipate what is to come – within weeks the fairways were 15 yards wide and the rough knee deep. Life being too short for such nonsense, I resigned, joined a club with a particularly pretty parkland course and kept my handicap.
Not that this was ideal, there were still areas of deep rough not too far from the fairway, deemed necessary by the Greens Committee to ‘toughen up’ the course. However, in the fullness of time, I was elected Chairman of Green and the first thing I did, to wide consternation, was to publish a course management document which included the proposal to limit all rough to a length not exceeding 45 millimetres.
For aesthetic reasons, I like fairways to be defined, preferably sinuously shaped rather than in straight lines, and I think that, just as I should be rewarded for staying on the fairway, I should be penalised for my stray shots.
However, the degree of penalty should be proportionate. In short, courses should be set up on a risk and reward, and not on a penal basis.
Thus, I argued that my 45mm proposal – rough long enough to define the fairway but short enough for balls to be found without difficulty – would not only give the course a more manicured Augusta look, it would speed up play.
To those who thought that that would make the course too easy, I pointed out that any ball in the rough would, in any case be off-line in its approach to the green, and, settled down 45mm, could not be struck with the same precision as one from the fairway.
Above all, however, there would, in the immortal dictate of the great Dr MacKenzie, “be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls”.
And it was this factor that won the members round, and, incidentally, reduced the time taken to complete Saturday medals by almost half an hour. Now I don’t envisage a new rule from the R&A limiting the length of rough but I’m quite prepared to air my opinion, for what it’s worth.
So, assuming that some 90 per cent of courses – I would allow some latitude for links courses where the grasses are fescue, rather than poa annua would be improved for a more manicured regime – does this mean that I advocate a total close shave?
By no means! Where there is sufficient width to include wild areas, particularly between fairways, there are three very good reasons to allow for long grass, whins, flowering shrubs or woodland.
Firstly, there is the benefit of a varied, natural aesthetic, secondly, the establishment of a habitat for bees and other insects, small mammals such as hedgehogs, even trails for foxes, badgers and the like, and thirdly, a greater visual separation between holes.
If fairways are, say, 30 yards wide, and playable rough another, say, 20 yards on each side, that should give more than enough latitude for even the most average golfer. If your ball lands outside this 70-yard-wide zone, you deserve to be penalised.
The only question is: by how much?
Here, the answer, again with speed of play in mind, must be one stroke only. The new orthodoxy should be that you don’t even look for a ball in the long stuff, treat it as OOB or a sacrosanct SSSI, and just drop a ball in the adjacent light rough, take a penalty shot, and get on with the game.
Let’s just forget arcane rules about going back from where you played, disrupting everybody else’s flow, and adding two shots. This is disproportionate, apart from being time-wasting.
And while we are at it, the same should apply to all OOB situations – one shot and drop at point of entry.
And that, folks, is part two of speeding up golf and making it more fun.
Part three next month.