What Golfers Really Think About the Rules of Golf

By: Golfshake Editor | Fri 06 Mar 2020 | Comments


Few sports are more transfixed on its rules than golf, with many believing that they are too complicated, time consuming, and unnecessarily harsh. Clearly the governing bodies embraced much of that opinion, last year revealing the new modernised Rules of Golf that sought to address the criticisms that golfers have made for decades, intending to simplify the rule book. 

But just how successful were the R&A and USGA? Studying responses and data from the 2019 Golfshake Survey, we have sought the opinion of regular, everyday golfers to discover whether they fully understand the changes that were made, agree with them, and perhaps more crucially, ask whether further modernisations are required.

Among the most notable raft of alterations included dropping the ball from knee height, no penalty for accidently moving your ball on the green, no penalty for a double hit, the freedom to move loose impediments in bunkers, the replacement of hazards with designated penalty areas, and the option to putt with the flag in the hole.

These were all introduced to help quicken up the game and ensure that the rules are easier to apply.

You can reflect back on the changes in greater detail by reading Understanding Golf's New and Modernised Rule Book or watch Top 8 New Rules of Golf Explained

It's certainly a long way from the first Rules of Golf in 1744 that stated that you must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole.

What Golfers Think

12 months on, we wanted to know what the Golfshake Community thinks. Two major topics focused on initiatives around growing the game and encouraging improved 'pace of play'. 53% of golfers responding had a positive view of 'playing ready golf' and 36% had a positive view of 'putting with the flag in' in terms of factors that would help to grow the game of golf. 

Regarding putting with the flagstick in the hole, we covered that subject in Should You Leave the Flagstick In When Putting?

The rules are there to ensure the integrity of the game, but there is a perception they can be confusing. So it may be of little surprise when asked which areas of the game they would most like to improve, with a rating out of 5, 70% of those playing for two years or less rated 'rules' with a rating of 3 to 5. This figure dropped down to 54% for golfers who had played for 20 years or more. 

More interestingly, when asked 'How Big An Issue Is Understanding The Rules Of Golf?' - 47% of golfers who have played the game for over 20 years rated this 4 to 5 compared to golfers who have played for two years or less rating this at 38.5%   This data may simply highlight that while newcomers are still getting used to the intricacies of the game of golf and the rules, it is not until they become more seasoned, potentially playing in competitive golf, that the rules become a factor.

In our latest survey we also asked if golfers would take an online test to verify their knowledge of golf, this was received positively with 83% saying yes. This is already something done in several European countries, including Sweden, Italy, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, who all have tests to obtain an 'official' handicap as part of their club process. One golfer specifically commented on this point:

"New players need to be taught more than just the skills of playing. They need to learn other things, for instance, rules, pace of play, ready golf, looking after courses (raking bunkers, repairing pitch marks) and safety on the course. They will enjoy the game more and more likely to stay with the game."

What Still Needs to Change?

Despite a generally positive view of the stated objectives of the new Rules of Golf, there are many golfers who believe that the game is still lacking when it comes to the education of these changes, that some remain confusing, and that there are several key issues that need addressing through the introduction of further modifications.

Commenting to the Golfshake Survey, golfers touched on these topics:

  • Divots
  • Knee Dropping
  • Pace of Play in Pro Game
  • Bifurcation
  • New Handicap System

Are the rules still too complex and should there be a designated test for golfers to ensure they understand them? These comments provided additional insights on the difficulty of the rules and how they can 'frustrate' at times.

"Many new players and visitors are allowed play with zero knowledge of the rules and overall understanding of the game."

"I don't play in competitions, I play for fun. The rules are too complicated, professionals don't know a lot of them."

"I am surprised how many experienced players know little of the wider rules - particularly since the 2019 changes."

"I've been playing golf for 63 years, and the USGA & the R&A still "don't get it, they're out-of-touch just like the present rules. There needs to be separate rules for Pros & Amateurs."

"I find the rules of golf are very complicated and can cause hold ups on the course when deciding what is the correct procedure and decision."

What has worked? Specifically, the encouragement of Ready Golf and putting with the flag in have largely been accepted, but these golfers believe that more needs to be done to make the rules applicable to all players.

"With the change in the rules re the flag in/out, it would be nice if groups would make a decision prior to a round, which to adopt and all play the same rule. If it is an issue, alternate on each round, but not on each hole, it can lead to misunderstanding for the following golfers."

"There are still some rules that can be made simpler. For example why does it need to be one or two club lengths, why can’t it be two steps. That would quicken play. Why have one or two stroke penalties, wouldn’t one figure be better?"

"Some of the new rules are a waste of time and are already being used for the golfer's benefit and not what they were introduced for. Flag removal was to save having to walk there and back whereas professionals are using as an option to improve their game. Cleaning plugged balls is good, but when balls land in divots or likewise why can't they be treated similarly?"

"The recent changes to the rules of golf missed an opportunity regarding having to play from a divot. I feel it would have been sensible to allow players to drop six inches behind the divot."

"Golf rules still far too complicated and need major overhaul, simplification, and shortening to a few basics and a crystal mark to ensure clear unambiguous language without jargon."

"The recent rule changes should have included a free drop from a divot on the fairway. The most frustrating rule that still exists in golf; where you are penalised for for hitting a straight drive. However, ground disturbed by a burrowing animal allows a free drop?"

"New rules and the new handicap system are making the game more complicated and will drive people out. I am aware of many players at my club who struggle to get three cards in a year. How will they cope with 8 out of 20?"

Several comments suggesting that a drop from a divot is something that needs to be introduced, albeit purists of the game would persuasively argue that such an adjustment defies that foundational 'play the ball as it lies' mantra that defines golf.

However, what do you think of the survey results and the comments? Do you agree with the Golfshake Community that progress has been made with regards to pace of play, but that the rules still fall short in other key areas?

Ultimately, it wouldn't be golf if people didn't have a gripe with the rules. Let us know what you think.


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