Editor's Letter: Putting With The Pin In
Illustration by Tavis Coburn
Waves of populism and disruptive change are flowing through our world today, and there's no better evidence than the radical simplification of The Rules of Golf being proposed by the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (see "The USGA Wants You To Rewrite The Rules")
The PGA of America will allow pros to wear shorts during practice rounds of the PGA Championship this year, and it sounds like the tour schedule might flip, with the PGA moving from August to May and the Players Championship from May to March. The Ladies' Golf Union merged with the R&A in January, and maybe even crusty old Muirfield will take in women members now. The European Tour is experimenting with varied tournament formats, and the PGA Tour is rattling the Golf Channel with talk of starting its own TV network.
Cheers to all these advancements as the game evolves to attract new players, but I think the rules changes are especially bold and smart because they're designed to quicken the pace of the game. I don't agree with many of the young pros who advocate breaking with the "amateurs" and creating their own handbook of rules. I find myself on the side of Tiger Woods, who tweeted congratulations to the USGA and R&A for "great work to benefit the game."
I especially endorse "legalizing" the use of range finders and GPS devices to level the playing field between everyday players and pros with pro caddies. And I like Ian Poulter's suggestion that "tour green books" should be banned—these are the intricate drawings that show slope on the putting surface and inevitably slow down play as pros study them like a Braille Bible and then ask their caddies to look at the putt.
I'd go along with Jimmy Dunne of Seminole, who said he planned to test drive the full menu of proposed changes right away. Don't tell me it'll mess up handicapping. We already engage in civil disobedience with mulligans. I'd also reverse the USGA's bad decision to disallow solo rounds for handicap purposes. The spirit of the proposed changes is based on trust and sensibility.
We did a little brainstorming on our staff and came up with some new and a couple of old ideas to reboot golf. (Feel free to send us yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
▶ Charge green fees by the hole rather than by the round, especially to invigorate play by kids and beginners.
▶ Use the British model and make private clubs accessible to nonmembers who reserve in advance a tee time on select days at a premium price. Maybe have a maximum USGA Handicap Index to qualify.
▶ An hour is way too long for a golf lesson; teachers can't resist piling on the tips and screwing up the students. Charge half the price, but make golf lessons only 20 minutes.
▶ Everybody criticizes golf broadcasters but praises the camera work. Here's the solution: Put together teams of commentators who voice-over the same live video—you could have the standard team, a team of comedians, an R-rated bunch of muny golfers, etc.—and the viewers get to pick whom they listen to.
▶ Install simulators at airports with auditorium seating for golf voyeurs. Better than staring at your smartphone.
▶ Enough with the 72-hole stroke-play format for pro golf. The Euros are on to something with six-hole matches. The PGA Tour should play a one-club event so pros could display and talk about their shotmaking.
▶ No dress-code violations for a body in motion. You can wear whatever from the parking lot to the locker room, and vice versa. People should never avoid the course for fear of the hassle of changing clothes just to show up or leave.
▶ No caddies over age 25. Less than 2 percent of rounds are played with a caddie, a figure that would be much higher if more caddie programs employed kids who'd gladly accept half the pay, creating a tremendous feeder system of young people learning golf at an age when it sticks for life.
▶ If it has a handle, you can swing it. Let's completely open the door on club design, but have one rule for ball regulation: It's gotta float.
▶ Talking is permitted at all times. Golfers will learn to filter out the background conversational noise of everyday rounds. In the pro ranks, no more need for pretentious Quiet Please signs that send the wrong message about our sport.
▶ The above also takes care of allowing mobile devices anywhere, anytime.
▶ More night-lighted golf courses.
▶ Two suggestions from my old friend Michael M. Thomas: Exclusive private clubs should annually auction off a membership to the highest bidder. And clubs should take a vote of the staff employees to throw out one obnoxious member each year. Now that would shake things up at Bushwood Country Club.