Teed Off (May 04, 2014)
with Robert Bicknell
While golf is booming here in Asia, in the US and Europe, rounds and revenue are down, less people are picking up the game and, as a consequence, club owners and equipment manufacturers are looking for new ways to spark new life into what some younger people regard as "their father's game".
On one social media site, there seems to be an on-going argument that the Rules of Golf are to blame for the game's declining popularity and slow play.
My personal belief is that all of these arguments based on a more convoluted scheme to change the rules of golf, but not for the betterment of the game, but rather to line the pockets of more people. The game is fine as it is.
First of all, the Rules of Golf have been around in one form or another since 1744 when drawn up in Edinburgh for the world's first 'open' golf competition at Leith by the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh, who would go on to become The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Over the years they have become much more complicated, but this was due to situations arising which were not covered by the original rules, or players looking for ways to circumvent a rule. Therefore, the definitions were tightened and new rules to cover the circumstances amended.
Anyone claiming the Rules of Golf are responsible for slow play simply has rocks in their head for the very simple reason that very few people actually play "straight rules of golf - except in tournaments or very high-money matches. Sure, the basic rules will always apply, but when playing with an informal group of friends for relaxation and fun, we allow "gimmies" (if the ball is close enough to the hole that it's almost impossible to miss with the next putt. The actual distance for this used to be "in the leather - meaning the length of the putter minus the grip but had to change due to the invention of broomstick putters).
We also used to modify OB (Out of Bounds) penalties and "lost ball" penalties to allow a player to drop a ball -with a two stroke penalty - instead of making the player walk all the way back and hit another ball from the place of the last shot (i.e., "stroke & distance").
If it's not a tournament, it really doesn't matter for those two items because the score comes out the same as if the game was played strictly.
The other argument making news is for a 15-inch (38.1cm) cup to replace the current one which is 4.25 inches (10.8cm).
This could be the most stupid idea I have ever heard, but the rationale behind it becomes more clear when you discover it was a major equipment manufacturer who proposed it, and also proposed "larger golf balls" and, of course, "larger clubs".
Personally, I see no reason why a golf club cannot hold a novelty tournament with a 15-inch cup once per year. Heck, we do three club tournaments, scrambles and other formats, why not a big hole event. But keep it as the exception rather than the norm.
My concern is that manufacturers with few exceptions (such as Acushnet) would sell out golf in a heartbeat to increase their bottom line. Even if you look at the social media site argument about changing the rules of golf, the proponents are people with a vested interest in selling you something which is currently against the rules. In one case, it was "non-conforming golf clubs and balls."
In this case, I am thankful that the R&A / USGA are as stodgy as they are. Golf needs protection. Not from people who cheat because the other players will deal with that, but from unethical people looking to line their pockets at the expense and traditions of the game.
Golf should be fun and we need to find ways to bring new players - especially juniors - into the game, but we should avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If we have to change the game to suit those who cannot accept the game as it is, then it's a bad decision.
Golf has always been about improving yourself over improving your lie, but some lies are too big to swallow. — VNS