Toss Out Your Rulebook — These Are the Only Golf Rules You Need – Paul Koehorst
by Paul Koehorst
There are 32 million golfers in the United States and I’m one of the 20 million classified as a “committed” golfer. I think that’s a nice way of being called a golf nerd and, unfortunately, I’ve got the bad tan to prove it. But even committed golfers like me play golf with what I’d call non-golfer golfers. These are friends and family members, randoms you’re paired up with, or corporate and charity events where you’re teamed up with Ted from sales who’s being pressured to play but swears he’s a golfer. (Spoiler alert: Ted’s wearing baseball cleats so I know he’s lying.)
These non-golfer golfers play with the frequency of a solar eclipse, so their knowledge of the rules doesn’t go much beyond adding up (most of) the strokes they take. This causes a problem because these games still have stakes and I’m forced to be the sole executor of the rules of golf. Slow play and arguments happen when non-golfer golfers feel they’re getting screwed because one guy (me) knows the rules and wields so much power. I nearly had a buddy’s trip end in disaster when I wouldn’t give a friend a free drop out of a divot. He was furious. I would never ask him for that drop, now I’m the bad guy?
The USGA finally took notice of this problem and made some positive changes to make the rules easier to understand. But I don’t think they’ve gone far enough. It’s time to establish a new set of rules. Let’s call them, “The Chilled-Out Rules of Golf,” designed to make the rules easier to implement and less punishing.
- Everyone gets a mulligan on the first hole. I’m sure the majority of first-tee shots are hit without warming up or with rushing to the first tee after escaping work or family obligations. A mulligan on the first tee goes a long way toward preventing a morale-killing big number early and gives you at least one stress-free swing to get started. Now, the breakfast ball doesn’t mean you automatically hit two balls and take the best one — this isn’t a Topgolf.
- A lost ball is a one-stroke penalty, hit from the last place your ball was seen. This includes “air space,” as in: Drop it where the ball flew out of play. And when it comes to determining the nearest point of relief, just drop on any patch of grass in that general area.
- No ticky-tack penalties. The USGA is tackling this one by cutting out penalties for putting with the flagstick in and double hitting the ball. If you’re a non-golfer golfer and you ground your club in a hazard, break a few twigs off a tree, drop a few yards closer to the hole, I don’t care. Also, you can share clubs, balls, information, whatever. Giving out a read, loaning someone a club, sharing a ball if someone needs to reload off the tee — it’s all good. Let’s just keep the course moving.
- If you think you should get a free drop because you’re against a fence or tree, in a massive divot, on top of an alligator, ask your playing partners. If one of them agrees with you, drop away. Golf can be cruel, but it doesn’t have to be. If my opponent gets a horrible break out there, I don’t need to see them getting injured or breaking a club because we’re playing for a beer at the turn.
- If you can find your ball, hit it. Ignore all stakes, OB’s, water hazards, and so on. This includes someone’s backyard, an Interstate, or the clubhouse patio. Just don’t get arrested or killed.
That’s it. Now that committed golfers like myself are going to be so cool about enforcing the rules, we want a little something in return. The rest of you have to learn how to fix a ball mark.