Stop trying to please everyone – just ban green books altogether

Golf News

Just when you thought the rule changes were meant to be making golf simpler, we get hit with a five-page document on green book limitations. Just get rid of them altogether, writes Steve Carroll

From the organisations that brought you the catastrophe that is the anchored putting ban, now we’ve got another fudge over green books.

The R&A and USGA have released a five-page document to go through, allowing plenty of room for misunderstanding, and the potential for more rules controversy.

Basically, everything the rest of the new 2019 Rules are trying to simplify.

I’ve read the “Interpretation on Putting Green Information” a couple of times now. Simple is the one word that doesn’t apply.

Bryson DeChambeau’s compass must be spinning in its case.

The USGA couldn’t wait to get their red pen out on that one, arguing his use of the protractor – or drawing compass – during the Travelers Championship was a violation of Rule 14.3a.

“It is considered unusual equipment that might assist him in making a stroke or in his play,” said a subsequent PGA Tour statement to players.

Green Book

With that in mind, it was surely a no-brainer to then just ban green books, which are a minutely detailed map of each putting surface with arrows guiding players to the direction of break and slope.

For a skilled operator, it basically tells them where to putt.

But no. You can’t take slope into account for yardages, for example, but you will still be able to use a putting green map to a lesser extent.

The plans, which are now out for consultation before being likely implemented along with a raft of other rules changes in January, affirms that players will need to “read greens based on their own judgement, skill and ability”.

Yet, they will still get a bit of help.

Take a look at this USGA example of the allowable level of detail on a green map under the proposals.

green book

It looks remarkably similar – in places – to the current green books. That’s because in this image it is depicting slope of 4 per cent or greater. You’ll still be able to use lines, arrows, numbers “or any other indicators” to do this.

The key is that it must not be less than 4 per cent.

So in the immediate areas around likely pin positions, which won’t be placed on these kind of contours, there won’t be any detail allowed that shows you where the line could be.

“This amount of information is not considered to remove or reduce this challenge as the player and caddie’s skill and judgement are still required to interpret the subtle features and slopes, especially in the area immediately around the hole,” the R&A and USGA say.

Look again, though, at the image.

It may not show me the absolute line to the cup, but it definitely reveals the general direction of the green off the largest slopes.

I would argue that would certainly give me a good idea of the likely travel – or at least an idea of the path of a putt at some point on its journey.

Traditional yardage books, which will still be permitted under the new interpretation, also include basic information about directions of travel and ridges and slopes.

But they are in nowhere near the level of detail as this green map that will still be permitted.

In fact any casual player that’s ever picked up a course guide will tell you they are pretty much useless when it comes to the putting surface.

The R&A and USGA have also issued guidance on the kinds of handwritten notes that will be allowed, and what won’t be permitted.

To paraphrase, caddies and players won’t be able to trace contour lines “or directly copy specific directional arrows and or numerical slope indicators”.

Hang on. So some arrows are okay, but some are not? I’m confused.

green books

“Any handwritten notes created by a player or caddie using a level must not provide any indicators of slopes less than 4% as this would be a ‘facsimile’ of a detailed green map”.

How that will be enforced? Are we going to have random green book testing on the PGA Tour?

Will caddies be hiding ‘clean’ green books and quickly switching them when the book testers come calling?

Okay, I’m going over the top but it feels like there is plenty of room for misinterpretation in this “interpretation”.

Just like anchoring, it will probably be down to the integrity of players and caddies to ensure they play to the rules.

How has that worked out so far? It seems like every week there’s another row as a social media mob get worked up over a player they perceive to be breaking the anchoring laws.

Wouldn’t it simply have been easier to ban any green reading tool that provided the detailed arrows that have made them an integral part of a top professional’s kit?

No green books, no controversy. Simple.

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