Restrictions on green books? This isn't just a U-turn – it's a full scale retreat
Who’d have thought the way to limit green books was simply to restrict their size?
It’s taken a six-week consultation exercise and months of pondering by the R&A and the USGA to come to this conclusion as their finalised interpretation of the use of green reading materials was published.
Let me take you back to July when the two governing bodies introduced the ‘Interpretation of Putting Green information’.
Many had wanted a total ban but the five-page document was something of a compromise, aimed at restoring green reading as a skill and limiting how the books were used.
So the use of the lines, arrows and numbers we’ve seen in these putting aids – that provide guidance on direction of break and inclines – were set to be outlawed if they showed slopes that were less than four per cent.
The use of handwritten notes, from both players and caddies, were also going to be restricted.
Admittedly, this presented the R&A and USGA with a couple of perception problems. Firstly, why were some arrows okay but some weren’t?
Secondly, how were you going to enforce the rules on handwritten notes? Were there going to be random checks of yardage and green books on tour?
When the proposals went out for comments, there were bound to have been a queue of players and caddies lining up to make representations.
And what seems clear is the rules bodies on both sides of the Atlantic have been lobbied hard.
Even so, the scale of the changes are still a surprise. That’s especially when considered alongside some of the more modest alterations that followed a similar exercise for the 2019 Rules of Golf.
This doesn’t feel like a U-turn as much as a full scale retreat.
The proposed minimum slope limit has been removed, as have the restrictions on using handwritten notes to create a copy of a ‘detailed green map’.
What replaces these is a limit on the size. Any image of a green is limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards.
Any book or paper that contains such an image can be no larger than 4¼ inches by 7 inches – the current size of most yardage books.
You can’t magnify that image, other than by using your usual prescription glasses or lenses if you need to wear them.
And if you want to write down some green dimensions, you can only do that if the book or paper you’re using meets the size limit and it’s either the player or caddie who is making the notes.
The R&A and USGA believe the pocket-sized nature of the new guidelines, and the scale of the green images, will greatly restrict the amount of information you can put on a page.
I’m not quite so sure. Just as yardage books have become increasingly complex in terms of what can be squeezed into their space, so I’m sure green book producers will find ingenious and new ways to pack in as much detail as possible.
And if players and their caddies have got the time and the inclination – and why wouldn’t they have when millions of dollars are at stake every week – they can still attempt to recreate the contours and slopes by hand as long as they stick within the size limit of the book.
The regulations come into force in January and the materials will be under review throughout next year to ‘assess whether any further action is required’.
I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this subject just yet.