OPINION: Majority Of New USGA Golf Rules Affect Difficulty Of Game, Not Speed Of Play
On January 1, 2019, the USGA rules of golf were altered in a number of ways.
In previous years, small changes to the rules of golf have been nothing out of the ordinary and unexceptional, but the changes that were implemented in 2019 have caught almost every player’s attention. Many of the previous changes to the USGA rules were implemented in order to speed up pace of play and ultimately shorten the time it takes to play eighteen holes, not make the game easier.
For example, the USGA rules do not permit the use of electronic distance measuring devices during professional events; however, the USGA rules allow tournament officials to implement a local rule that allows the use of distance measuring devices. Although a local ruling of this kind is not found in professional tournaments, many junior and amateur events implement this local rule because it speeds up play by reducing the time it takes for the player to calculate ones distance to their target. Thus, this rule is clearly an attempt to speed up pace of play, not decrease the difficulty of the game.
In comparison to the ruling above that permits a tournament to allow the use of electronic distance measuring devices during competition, some of the 2019 rule changes seem to focus less on the pace of play and more on the difficulty of the game. For example, it used to be the case that if a player hits his or her ball into a hazard, or the ball is deemed unplayable, the player must then stand upright and drop a ball from shoulder height in order to put the ball back in play. However, the new set of rules have changed this process and now require the player to drop the ball from knee height, rather than from the shoulder. As a result, a player who is following the up-to-date USGA rules is significantly more likely to get a better ball position than he would have in the same scenario last year. Thus, the new rule change has the potential to decrease the difficulty of the game, rather than speed up play.
As a current collegiate golfer at Hampden-Sydney College, the 2019 USGA rules present both advantages and disadvantages. Because every stroke during a round of competitive golf counts, the rule change mentioned above seems as if it would be good news to any player; however, this assumption is not quite the case. Because a player now has a slight advantage over a player in years past, player’s scores and course records that are set after 2019 will now be viewed as slightly different because it can be argued that the new rules of golf have made certain parts of the game ‘easier.’
Likewise, with the vast number of rule changes made this year, I have witnessed play become increasingly slower due to players struggling to remember all of the new rules. For example, a few weeks ago, during the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, commentators discussed abnormal behavior within the playing field. The abnormal behavior mentioned had to do with players discussing the new rules with rules officials so that they do not incur a penalty; however, this lack of knowledge about the many new 2019 rules caused a delay of pace for many players.
I believe that so many drastic rule changes in one year has simply created problems, rather than solve them. As a result, I believe that these problems will continue to have a somewhat adverse effect on players until all competitors have had ample time to become familiar with the 2019 USGA rules.