A Few Rules for Faster Play

Have you ever noticed that golfers tend to hate the group in front of them? It’s because that group is holding them up, at least in their minds. Real or imagined, slow golf sucks. If the group in front of you truly is holding you up, there’s no need to worry about the nuances of fast play. But if you’re the hold up, consider picking it up a bit. Here is a partial list of “rules” that if adhered to, will make the game proceed faster and everyone will be happier.

SwingThoughts

  1. DON’T PIDDLE! If you have already hit your shot and you are the only person still within range of the group behind you, DO NOT piddle with your clubs. DO NOT clean your club. DO NOT put its head-cover on. Get in the cart and move on. Believe it or not, the cart will operate properly while someone is holding a club. In fact, if you’re the passenger, you can clean your club and replace the head-cover while the cart is moving. When the cart comes to a stop, you can then put your now shiny club back into the bag.

 

  1. BE REALISTIC ON YARDAGE. Believe it or not, most golfers have the experience and knowledge to make a pretty good guess as to the distance from tee to pin when pulling up to the tee box. DO NOT casually mosey on up to the tee box, range finder in hand intent on reconnoitering the terrain. DO NOT lose sleep over whether or not the hole is 152 yards rather than 154 yards, especially when you hit your seven iron 150 plus or minus 20 yards. If you think that plus or minus two yards is going to make a difference, ask you caddie for his opinion. You obviously have one because you must be on the PGA Tour if you’re truly that precise in your shot making. Otherwise, increase the dosage on your medications for delusions of grandeur.

 

  1. MULTI-TASK. You see it all the time. Someone strolls up to the tee box, rangefinder in hand, but devoid of clubs. After taking readings worthy of a professional surveyor, the golfer now saunters back to the cart to select a club. Two heads may be better than one, but two trips take considerably more time. When you pull up to the tee box, you are given a number of clues. For example, the scorecard shows the yardage. The USGA approved stone monument in the ground generally has the yardage on it. A placard is frequently mounted on the ball washer or some other handy device. You may have played the hole the day before and can probably assume they have added an additional two hundred yards to the hole. You can even go to the extreme and look at the pin and estimate its distance. Stunningly, humans can be pretty accurate in these situations. Now, take a club with you to the tee box! If you’re in doubt, take two clubs. In the worst case, take three – one longer, one shorter and your best guess. This applies to par three holes and to fairway approach shots. One trip is easier and faster than two or three.

 

  1. AVOID THE DRINK CART unless the course is backed up. If you’ve got an open hole in front of you and you stop at the cart, the beers you’re buying better be for the group behind you as a peace offering. Otherwise, wave them through or skip the libations.

 

  1. ABANDON RITUAL or at least cut down on it. Ritual has played a key role in people’s lives for eons. From religion to the Elks Lodge, ritual has played a part. Some golfers engage in more ritual before striking the ball than an exorcist expunging the demons … and with about as much success. Some of the observed ritual defies explanation.

I have seen (as have you) players who go through a full address and practice swing while facing the opposite direction from the hole. They already squandered twice as much time as a “fast” golfer before they even face the hole! Then some golfers not only push the limits of sanity, they blow through them at full throttle. Some stand behind the ball and extend their club pointing at the hole as if the club will somehow observe and learn the proper direction and whisper it to the ball at impact. One player I know actually “plumb-bobs” the hole. That’s not uncommon when you’re on the green, but when you’re 500 yards distant on the tee box, the meritorious effects of this action may be hard to discern. With all this, we haven’t yet even taken a stance!

We’re now fifteen seconds into the ritual since the tee was placed in the ground. (Note that “fast” golfers have generally teed it up, taken their stances, and made their swings in less than ten seconds.) It’s time to take a stance. Meticulous attention is made to the proper stance while the collective thoughts of the others in the group are focused on “ … finally, the S.O.B. is going to take a swing and we can play on.” Wrong! The stance now taken is solely for the purpose of taking one or two or three deliberate practice swings, none of which approximate the path, tempo or timing of the ultimate swing – should it ever come.

Finally, we can move up to the ball and take a stance. Signs of industry. Something might now happen.  All the years of practice, the lessons, the study, Golf Magazine and Golf Digest subscriptions, and the viewing of PGA tournaments on the television are finally about to coalesce in one elegant swing timed to perfection with a tempo that would make Bach swoon. But wait … there’s more.  Lay the shaft of the club across your thighs and make certain it still points to the hole. That’s certainly not out of the question given the amount of time that’s been diddled away getting to this point of near euphoria. Ah ha! The club points a half degree to the left. Good thing you checked. Now move one thigh forward or back; don’t move your feet. That’s because the one thing that doesn’t change during your swing is your legs. The feet could go anywhere.

Alright, get ready to swing. Oh, one last thing. Run through your metal checklist. Inside out? Check. Strengthen the grip? Check. Head steady? Check. Don’t over-swing? Check. Tempo, tempo, tempo. The swing’s a pendulum. Check. Lead with the left side? Check. Square the club face? Check. Pivot rather than sway? Check. Stand upright? Check. Attend to the rest of the checklist (see the diagram above for a partial list).

The only problem now is that you’ve been standing over the ball so damn long, you’re beginning to tremble as your muscles have become the area’s largest producer of lactic acid. You’ve forgotten which items on your list you omitted and which you checked twice. Subconsciously, you realize you only have room for one swing thought at a time while you have fifty-two of them on your list. At least one member of your group has dialed “9-1-1” while another is unwrapping the paddles of his portable defibrillator assuming you’ve died or at the very least, are in the midst of a grand mal seizure.

Finally, your body breaks loose from you muddled mind and takes it upon itself to execute some semblance of a golf swing. Those nearby who have not yet fallen asleep or gone to the clubhouse for a beer watch and now understand what David Feherty meant when he said, “His swing looks like an octopus falling from a tree.”

You’ve been on the tee box long enough to stake a legitimate “squatter’s rights” claim for title to the land. You’ve become subject to the “paralysis by analysis” demon and the only things you can utter after such lengthy preparation are pithy expressions like, “Oh shit!” and “Fore!”

If you take three practice swings before your ninety-five recordable swings, you have in effect played four rounds of golf. Is it any wonder you tend to fade at the end of the round?

Fast players typically take eight to ten seconds to tee it up and hit it. If you’re over fifteen seconds, you’re pushing it. If you’re over twenty seconds, you are a slow player. I have seen players exceed thirty seconds tee to take-off. That is grounds for homicide of the “justifiable” variety.

One final observation on this one – Have you ever noticed slow players rarely think they’re slow?

If the ritual becomes excessive, the results are generally not commensurate with the pre-swing efforts. Consider throwing an extra ten in the collection plate if you’re a church goer. Then you can just walk up to the ball, glance at the green, and swing!

The Rules are The Rules, but …

The USGA has a clearly defined set of rules for the game of golf. Most of our fellow golfers have a pretty good understanding of those rules, at least when there are witnesses present. On top of these rules, players need to be familiar with any “local rules” which may be applicable on any given course. The extent of the rules that govern our play may sometimes seem burdensome and confusing. However, whenever frustration sets in when dealing with those rules, consider yourselves lucky that you didn’t have to play golf at Richmond Golf Club in England in 1940.

According to one source, German planes would fly from Norway on bombing missions. Because of icy weather conditions, the barrels of their guns had a small dab of wax in the muzzle to protect them from clogging with ice. In addition to attacking industrial targets close to the golf courses, after crossing the coast, they would clear their guns by firing a few rounds at the golf courses. Golfers were encouraged to take cover. It is said they also were asked to play by the following rules.

RichmondLocalRules

The next time you get a bad lie in the fairway, relax. It could be a lot worse.

 

Going Native on Ambiente

High GrassWith a few new members and a few whose memories come into and out of focus from time-to-time, let’s review the rule associated with playing out of the “native grass” areas on the Ambiente course at Camelback.

Native grass areas are deemed “lateral hazards”. This means:

  1. YOU MAY NOT ground your club when addressing your ball. You MAY lightly touch the grass, but you MAY NOT do anything that alters the swing path such as taking practice swings that tear or uproot the grass or plants near the ball.
  1. YOU MAY NOT move any loose impediments in the hazard. You MAY NOT brush any rocks or pebbles aside. YOU MAY NOT pick up or move any twigs, pine needles, coyote droppings. You DO NOT get relief from “obstructions” if you’re in a hazard without incurring a penalty stroke. This includes things like the fire hydrant on the ninth hole.
  1. YOU DO NOT get free relief from standing water if you are IN the hazard. That’s sort of why it’s called a “hazard”. After the rains, many of the native grass areas become native rivers. No relief without penalty.
  1. YOU MAY NOT “build a stance”. You can place your feet firmly on the ground, but you may not uproot plants or kick big rocks around while taking your stance.

Relief from a lateral hazard is covered under Section 26 of the Rules of Golf. You have five options:

  1. Play the ball where it lies without penalty and subject to the prohibitions outlined above. Obviously, you have to find the ball to do this. No penalty.
  1. Stroke and distance. Return to the spot from which you hit the ball. You incur a one stroke penalty. If you hit the ball from the teeing ground, you are now hitting your third shot from the teeing ground.
  1. Drop a ball within two club lengths of the point where the ball crossed the margin of the hazard. You take a one stroke penalty.
  1. Drop a ball within two club lengths of a point on the opposite side of the hazard, but no closer to the hole than where the ball first crossed the margin of the hazard. You take a one stroke penalty.
  1. Drop a ball as far back as you wish on a line from the point of entry and the flagstick. You take a one stroke penalty.

Admittedly, it is called a “lateral hazard”, but this DOES NOT MEAN you can drop a ball laterally out of the hazard. You MUST drop within two club lengths of the point where the ball first crossed the margin of the hazard (assuming you’re taking relief as defined by #3 above).

What are the native grass areas? For most golfers, it’s pretty apparent that the arroyo area on the starboard side of the course is a “native grass” area. However, some golfers lose their clarity when they end up in a little “island” area of native grass. If it looks like native grass, you’re safe assuming it is a hazard. This includes places like (1) the tall grass between the cart path and the sand traps on the left side of the #3 fairway, (2) the grass areas running the entire length of the port side of pretty much every hole on the course, (3) the grass areas above and to the left of the traps on #18, (4) the tall grass area between the cart path and the #16 green, (5) the grassy area above the trap at the end of the dogleg on the #1 hole. These are just a few of the “native grass” areas. If it’s got flowers, it’s not fairway, it’s not rough, it’s native.

A couple of final comments on this topic: if you’re playing the Padre course and hit a ball into a native grass area that’s part of the Ambiente course, e.g., the area behind the twelfth green, IT IS NATIVE GRASS and deemed lateral hazard.

Consider this a “local rule” for The Jones Boyz Group. I don’t recall if Camelback has addressed this issue, so don’t claim it as an “official” local rule for the club without checking. There are areas on the course where the cart path runs through native grass areas. For example, on #3, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 and other holes, there are sections of the cart path with native grass areas on both sides of the path. Technically, with a ball on the path or a ball adjacent to the path where the concrete interferes with your swing and the finish on your $100 club, you are NOT entitled to relief. However, by Executive Decree of the Tournament Committee, i.e., me, we will play with our own local rule. You MAY take relief from the cart path without penalty. However, you MAY NOT take relief out of the hazard. The free drop must be within a club length of the nearest relief from the cart path, but within the hazard.

We’ve got a great golf group and we should be proud that we have fostered a culture where we play by the rules. We don’t improve our lies. We don’t bump the ball. We’re pretty much “by the book”. Hopefully, this helps some of the newer members of the group to stay on the high road.

In the final analysis, the best way to avoid conflicts with these and other rules is to hit your shots into the fairway. I’m thinking about trying that approach. I’m always open to new things.

Why Play the Ball “Down”?

intheroughFrom time-to-time, competitors approach me before a match and suggest that because it rained the day before or the course was over-seeded a month ago or the mower blades need to be sharpened or the tides have been running higher than normal in Malaysia or their grandmothers have been ill or their balls don’t like bad lies or blah, blah, blah. In all but the rarest of circumstances, we elect to play the ball “down”. No winter rules. No improving the lie.

Why? Because the rules of the game say play it down!

However, I don’t opt to play it down solely so I can be a “good boy” and play by the rules. You know me better than that. The rules say “play it down” for reasons. And here they are – straight out of the USGA Handicap System Manual, Section 7-2.

  1. Such a Local Rule conflicts with the fundamental principle of playing the ball as it lies;
  2. Preferred lies is sometimes adopted under the guise of protecting the course when, in fact, the practical effect is just the opposite – it permits moving the ball to the best turf, from which divots are then taken to injure the course further;
  3. Preferred lies generally tends to lower scores and a Handicap Index, thus penalizing players in competition with players whose scores are made without preferred lies;
  4. Extended use or indiscriminate use of preferred lies will place players at a disadvantage when competing at a course where the ball must be played as it lies.

In a book entitled “How to Cheat in Golf – Confessions of the Handicap Committee Chairman”, the author (one of my favorites) dedicates Chapter Four to “The Biggest Cheat in Golf”. He makes it clear the biggest cheater is the golfer that takes steps of any kind that result in a unjustified lowering of his handicap index. Bumping your ball, improving your lie, and playing “winter rules” means that the biggest cheat in golf is you!

Let’s play it down.