Make the rules of golf simpler

The rules of golf are too complicated. There’s no question about it. They are unnecessarily complex and do not have a logical sequence. And it’s not just an annoyance that existing golfers have to deal with and get over; it’s a huge factor in putting non-golfers off from taking up the game. 

Some of the rules and penalties simply make no sense. Look at this example: what’s the worst shot you can make? A shank? A complete duff? No. It’s an air-shot. 

With an air-shot, you haven’t even managed to make contact with the ball. But if you make an air-shot on the tee, you find yourself playing your second shot from the same position. Conversely, you can hit a solid 300-yard drive that kicks just out of bounds and find yourself playing your third shot from the same position. How is that fair? How does that make sense? 

The complex intricacies of the rulebook probably don’t worry most amateurs having a casual knockabout with friends at the local muni, but they put them off from progressing to joining clubs and getting involved in competitions. The worst thing in golf is to be branded a cheat, but the rules mean that people can breach them and not even understand how, or why.  

I think golf should have two sets of rules: “Club Rules” and “Tournament Rules”. Club Rules would include things like:

  • If your ball goes out of bounds, you drop as close as possible to where it went out of bounds, with a one-shot penalty.
  • All penalties add one shot.
  • All drops are made within one club length (the one club length or two club length confusion troubles everyone).
  • If you move the ball with your club or foot, add a one-shot penalty and continue from your new lie.
  • If you have not hit your shot within one minute of arriving at your ball, you add a penalty shot.
  • The maximum score on a hole is triple bogey, after which point you should pick up. The maximum handicap should increase to 54.

Everyday club golfers should always play these club rules. The effect would be simple golf. Simple golf is quicker, and more enjoyable.

While I do not expect the R&A to follow my suggestions hook, line, and sinker, I fully expect a review of the problems facing golf.

We can’t ignore problems like fewer people playing the game, and the perennial issue of slow play. The times are a changing, it may be called the Royal & Modern soon!

The current rules are so complicated that even full-time Tour professionals and their caddies don’t fully understand them and have to refer to on-course referees for decisions, which often takes five or 10 minutes. 

Not only does this cause play to slow up even more, it’s hardly a great advert for anyone watching at home and thinking of taking up golf. You switch on wanting to see Rory and Tiger launching monster drives, hitting incredible irons and holing fantastic putts. 

Instead, you see them surrounded by confused rules officials, leafing through the rulebook and talking into earpieces for 10 minutes on end. It makes golf seem old-fashioned and out of touch. 

Even though I work in television, I never feel it’s fair that TV cameras can be used to examine incidents and penalise players. The same situation would go unpunished if the group hadn’t been on camera, which creates an imbalance: the top players are on camera more, which means they are more likely to be subject to footage-based review.  

There are three things that golf needs: to get more people playing, get them playing faster, and get them enjoying it more. 

Simpler rules that are based on common sense can help all three elements, so it should happen as soon as possible. 

Some people will say that golf wouldn’t be golf if we weren’t all playing by the same rules, but I think that is nonsense. What does it matter if there are club rules for the masses and tournament rules for the pros, as long as people are enjoying hitting balls around fields with clubs?

What rules would you like to see changed? 

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