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Chip Shots: Relax, Already!

Hunter Martin, Getty Images

Let’s face it, golf as a viable recreational industry could use some upgrades. While tradition in the game is extremely important, it’s becoming clear that golf, like anything, needs to adapt to an ever-changing world. Things like cost, simplicity and length of time needed to complete a round are all important issues to golfers, particularly recreational ones.

After last year’s well-received Pace of Play series created by Golf Channel and promoted by Morning Drive hosts Charlie Rymer and Matt Ginella, the next new thing is something called, Relaxed Rules.

In preparation for this series, Golf Channel commissioned research that revealed 85 percent of avid golfers and lapsed golfers are in favor of specific “Relaxed Rules” for recreational play. This concept offers an alternative for a majority of golfers out there who are playing for fun with buddies, not keeping an official handicap and participating in USGA-sanctioned competitive tournaments.

Following are the unofficial Relaxed Rules that are proposed for use when recreational golfers are playing a fun round with friends. They promise to speed up rounds and allow folks to feel good about their games, without getting bogged down with endless rules, penalties, etc.

  1. MAXIMUM SCORE: double par (i.e. 6 on par-3s, 8 on par-4s….)
  2. PENALTIES: all are 1 stroke, including out of bounds, water and lateral hazards, lost ball and unplayable lie. Drop a ball near where the original was lost and play on.
  3. SEARCH TIME: 2 minutes to look for your ball. If lost, proceed under Rule #2.
  4. UNFORTUNATE LIES: with your playing partners’ consent, balls may be dropped out of divots or footprints, away from tree roots and any other dangerous lies.
  5. CONCEDED PUTTS: putts may be conceded with your playing partners’ consent.
  6. EQUIPMENT: no restrictions, including number of clubs.
  7. COMMON SENSE: when in doubt, use common sense and fairness.

Relaxed Rules is being supported by Golf Channel on air, online and through social media, featuring the #GolfIsFun hashtag and GolfChannel.com’s Growing the Game page. There are videos with Charlie Rymer, a “doctor” of Relaxed Rules, and Matt Ginella, portraying a recreational golfer who is consumed by what he sees “on Tour,” that will highlight situations on the golf course when Relaxed Rules can help alleviate confusing situations and speed up play.

Based on what I have read on internet golf forums, there is a fairly clear difference of opinion between “serious” amateur golfers and golfers who are focusing more on fun and who are, most likely, not as proficient at the game. More serious golfers feel strongly that there is one set of rules for the game and they should be followed; any variation from those rules means you are not playing golf as it was meant to be played. On the other hand, recreational golfers are more open to the Relaxed Rules and feel as though it will make the game more fun for a lot of people.

As I write this blog, I’m feeling conflicted. I respect the integrity of the game, and realize the rules are reviewed every two years, ensuring an opportunity for change and growth. So, for the pros and serious amateurs that have the time and money to become skilled at the game, the “official” rules are very important and should be honored.

On the other hand, the golf industry as a whole is in desperate need of expanding participation, and that is going to come from young people, women, and others who play only occasionally. For these folks, the Relaxed Rules will allow golf to be less intimidating and likely more enjoyable, leading to greater participation from a more diverse pool of people.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to Relaxed Rules in golf. If an individual or group of players want to follow the official rules, they should. On the other hand, I see a benefit to the majority of golfers and potential golfers choosing to follow a less stringent set of rules, if agreed to by all participating. As for me, I am working towards following all the rules but admit to “relaxing” now and then.

At the very least, the development and promotion of Relaxed Rules is generating discussion, and that is a healthy thing for the game and the people who love to play it.

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