Will Overhauling The Rules of Golf Bring More New Players to The Game?

OPINION: Today the USGA and R&A announced their proposed revamping of the rules of golf, largely in a bid to modernize the game, speed up play but also to make the game more palatable for hackers and newcomers. The proposed changes will no doubt be good for the game but will they really help golf’s bottom line and more importantly the bottom line of golf course owners and managers.

First off, these rules will take effect January 1st 2019 so there’s plenty of time for professionals to prepare and the governing bodies to review feedback.

A few of the more noticeable rule changes include:

  • Maximum score per hole in some stroke play formats (for weekend warriors basically)
  • The ability to use distance measuring devices (range finders and really only applicable to the pros)
  • No penalty for moving a ball or marker on the putting green (already in effect for 2017) along with several other rules concerning ball movement
  • Treating balls in hazards the same as balls in the fairway. i.e., players can move loose impediments and ground the club.
  • The ability to move loose impediments in bunkers. (players still may NOT touch the sand with their club)
  • Encouraging faster play by allowing no more than 40 seconds to make a stroke and playing “ready golf” (out of turn).

While these rules would apply largely to everyone who plays the game, realistically most of them are only going to make a significant difference to very avid and professional golfers. Your average weekend warrior and newcomers to the game really don’t need or want to be concerned with how they drop their ball when it’s come to rest in standing water. Most of them will just knock it around with their club until the lie looks good anyway. They also already pick up their ball and take a “gentleman’s 8” when things get out of hand and fluff up lies on most shots. Not to mention mulligans, the occasional foot wedge and shaving a stroke here and there.

So while these rules are great for existing fans and more dedicated golfers, I think they don’t do a single thing to fill tee sheets at your local course or bring new people to the game. They will also probably do very little to speed up the game overall at local courses which is a main goal. I have a hard time believing that my buddy who plays once per year is going to start getting out every 6 weeks because he can drop the ball from waist height or ground his club in a hazard. So kudos to the USGA and R&A for cleaning up and making the rules more common sense but I think these updates will fall short on at least one of their main goals: growing the game of golf. To do that, they need to make golf the “it” thing to do and make it more laid back for newcomers and those that rarely play. This won’t be achieved by rule changes but by marketing the game in new and innovative ways.

Of course that’s just my $0.02.

You can find the complete set of proposed rules at the usga.org website.