Then we were kids, the rules were simple.
For basketball, whether it was one-on-one or five-on-five, the game was half-court. A basket was worth one point, and if hacked in the act of shooting, the offense kept the ball. There were no foul shots or personal fouls, but the understanding was that transgressions should not be flagrant – just hard-nosed play.
Street hockey games, meanwhile, began with a faceoff. The two centers tapped the pavement with their sticks three times in rapid succession, then began smacking the opponent’s stick (over the ball) before attempting to obtain possession of the brilliant orange orb. If someone yelled “car,” the team with possession of the ball kept it until the vehicle passed and play resumed.
Football was played on whatever field we could find, but no matter where we played, the length was never 100 yards. Three completions were a first down, a touchdown was worth one point, and there were no extra-point conversions or field goals.
At no time did we think we were playing by the official rules for any of those sports, but we still knew were playing basketball, football or hockey.
A different kind of game
Golf was different. Red and yellow stakes were hazards. We really weren’t sure of the difference, but we knew we had to take a drop and add a shot to our scores if the ball traveled beyond them. White stakes were out of bounds – that was stroke and distance. It was also a penalty if we touched the sand in a bunker or accidentally moved our ball.
Maybe we adhered to the official rules for golf, unlike the other sports, because we were playing on an actual course with adults nearby (and occasionally in our group). Maybe it was because nearly every grown-up we knew was in a golf league, and they taught us to play the game by the same rules they used.
The recent proposed rule changes that the USGA and R&A proposed are all designed to speed up the game and make it more fun. My suggestion to help lessen the perceived rigidity of golf is for the governing bodies to let golfers know it is perfectly fine to essentially ignore the rules.
I’m a fill-in for a local nine-hole league comprised of about 20 guys. A couple of them might have GHIN numbers but most just use their league handicap. These knuckleheads roll it everywhere – the fairway, the rough, the woods, and probably in the bunkers. It’s not cheating because they all do it, and they all have fun.
Not too long ago, I was standing behind the first green of the Norfolk Golf Club in Massachusetts, one of the finest nine-hole courses in the country. Superintendent Jon Zolkowski pointed to two older women who were in a cart, making their way toward the flagstick one 30-yard shot at a time.
“They don’t keep score until they get to the green,” he informed me.
When they arrived at the putting surface, they greeted us with smiles and waves. After holing their putts, they departed the same way. When all was said and done, they played the par-4 in an acceptable amount of time.
If it’s not broke…
I see no reason to “grow the game.” I’m on the record as saying I believe that’s a concept created by the people who want to sell more overpriced golf balls, clubs and green fees.
I am, however, all for the game becoming more welcoming to more people.
To help do that, we need to fight the perception that golf has to be played by “the official rules.” Only a miniscule percentage of golfers have a GHIN number. Most don’t, and they shouldn’t.
These people don’t need to play by whatever rules the USGA and R&A set (although course etiquette is something that everyone on the course should follow). The official rules are complicated, confusing, overwhelming and, frankly, a little intimidating.
Let’s also get people away from religiously recording each and every swing. Bobby Jones called “printing par scores” a “mental hazard.”
Heck, if we could put bumpers on a golf course to redirect wayward shots, like bowling alleys sometimes do when kids are playing, I’d be all for it. It would speed up the game, increase the pleasure and lessen the stress.
How about the USGA and R&A tell golfers and prospective golfers to put away the scorecard, ignore the rules of the game and have some fun, oh and rake the bunkers and repair their divots and ball marks.