Effort to simplify Rules of Golf should be applauded

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Walking through the Kapalua clubhouse earlier this month, a PGA Tour player pivoted as he made his way to the locker room and quickly approached one of the circuit’s rules officials.

“So if my golf ball moves on the green . . .,” the player began before being interrupted by the official. “I only have two questions, did you cause the ball to move or did something else [wind, gravity, etc.] cause it to move,” the official explained.

A wide smile inched across the player’s face, it was like Christmas in January for a man whose livelihood is often governed by a set of exceedingly complicated rules.

The adjustment to Rule 18-2b in December, which introduced a local rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green, was widely applauded and according to many just the tip of the rule-change iceberg.

If players were pleased with the adjustment to 18-2b news this week that the USGA and R&A are busy at work on even more potentially sweeping changes should be celebrated, both by those at the game’s top echelons and everyday players.

According to Golfweek, officials are considering a drastically revised version of the Rules of the Golf, including a reduction in the amount of time players can search for lost golf balls (from five minutes to three), a change that would allow players to repair spike marks on greens and an adjustment to the height from which a player can drop a ball when taking relief.

These changes have been some three years in the making as the governing bodies set out to simplify the Rules of Golf, and in November, USGA executive director Mike Davis gave a glimpse of what to expect while speaking to a group of PGA of America professionals.

“We are assessing how we can make the Rules of Golf easier, plain English, easier to apply. Some of the rules right now are simply too difficult,” Davis said.

The work that Davis and Co. have been doing is arguably the most important grow-the-game initiative for golf in decades, targeting a number of trouble areas.

By reducing the amount of time a player can search for a lost ball, the rule makers are effectively speeding up the game; and by simplifying the nuances of penalty drops and hazards, officials are - at least in theory - making it easier for new players to take up and enjoy the game.

The Rules of Golf are complicated, and maybe there’s not a lot anyone can do about that, but it is encouraging to see those who can make a difference trying.