USGA, R&A deserve credit for monumental task


My head already hurts less.

The idea that reading the Rules of Golf may no longer bring on dizziness, nausea and other migraine-like symptoms might be the best news the game has received since the USGA legalized steel-shafted golf clubs.

We may soon be experiencing a seismic shift in the enjoyment of the sport almost as important to the growth of the game as any equipment innovation.

The USGA’s and R&A’s sweeping makeover of its rules proposals is potentially that profound, given how onerous rules complications have become.

This modernization of the rulebook feels like it could be some sort of vaccine, a medicinal remedy for the pain that comes with opening that cursed, wretched book.

By the time this draft of epic changes is reviewed, and then finalized for implementation on Jan. 1, 2019, the game should be in a much better place.

The massive overhaul of the rulebook isn’t just about common-sense changes to the rules. It’s about simplifying the explanation of the rules.

“This is about making the rules easier to understand and easier to read and easier to apply,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director.

In other words, when this is all said and done, the Rules of Golf may no longer be as difficult to decipher as the IRS tax code.

We’re used to seeing the rule book grow more complicated with every revision, but these proposals would actually reduce the rules from 34 to 24. How about that?

Full list: Proposed changes to Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf modernization: Articles, explanations and videos

Highlights of proposed rule changes include:

 Hazards being redefined and simplified as “penalty areas,” with the grounding of clubs, practice swings and removal of loose impediments allowed.

 Free drops and penalty drops being simplified in their execution.

 Eliminating penalties for accidental movement of balls at rest.

 Allowing players to tap down spike marks.

 Permitting distance measuring devices.

 Prohibiting caddies from standing behind their player to line up shots.

 Encouraging “ready golf” for recreational players.

If you were hoping the stroke-and-distance rule would be changed, or that you could get relief from your ball landing in a divot in a fairway, don’t be disappointed. The USGA and R&A aren’t done. The proposals are open to a commentary period where anyone and everyone is encouraged to offer up their own opinions.

“Basically, we are presenting a draft,” Davis said. “We are going to have a six-month period of feedback where we want to hear from golfers around the world.

“We want to know how we can make these rules presented in draft form even better. How can we make them even simpler, more consistent and fair?”

We’ve pounded the USGA and R&A for making the game more complicated than it ought to be, for creating controversy where we thought common sense could solve so many problems.

So let’s give the USGA and R&A a round of applause today. This is a monumental task, an admirable work that required an exhaustive review.

The review process began in 2012, with the USGA and R&A meeting specifically to simplify the game.

Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, remembers the first meeting.

“It was a matter of these (rules) have become complex,” Pagel said. “How do we make them easier to understand and apply for golfers around the world at all levels? And how do we look at delivery, so when you as a golfer get in the book, you actually understand what you are reading?

“We looked at everything. If you look at the rules as a puzzle, we pulled every piece apart, looked at every word to see how we could make it better.”

In so doing, the USGA and R&A appear to be intent on making all of our heads hurt less as we apply the rules to the game we love.