Story by Ian Guerin
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. | Change is hard. When it’s for the better, well, it makes it a little easier for the masses. Beginning in 2019, the USGA’s new rules have a semi-common theme. Instead of past years, when the rules often made it harder for the average player, this year’s release appears aimed at growing the enjoyment of the game. It’s not hard to see why, when many of the rounds from the baby boomer and even their children are dwindling, and the next generation of players is looking for crisper rounds and less time on the course. Among the nine major USGA rules changes for 2019, four have a direct impact for South Carolina’s Grand Strand golfing meccas and the few million rounds played here annually.
TIME LOOKING FOR SHOTS
Maybe the most critical change that will affect play for most of us is the time we’re now allowed to look for errant shots. The previous mark of five minutes was dropped to three. At that point, the ball is considered lost, and a drop is required.
Why this matters: This is important because of the diversity of layouts in and around Myrtle Beach. There are spots of super tall Fescue grass, heavy tree lines, seemingly forgiving landing zones adjacent to water and areas where the rough is mowed so seldom that two inches of grass seems like 10. As any of us who have played on a busy day know, the flow of the game is critical to rhythm. Taking a drop stinks, but so, too, does waiting on a playing partner who just can’t seem to let that Titleist go earlier than expected.
REPLACING A BALL TO AN UNKNOWN SPOT
Instead of a drop, a ball that is inadvertently picked up by the wrong player or moved for other reasons is placed (not dropped) at the estimated location of its original landing. The purpose of the new rule ensures that the ball is placed under the conditions that it came to rest, not better or worse placement that could occur with a drop and ensuing roll.
Why this matters: Not every golf course in the area has the luxury of non-adjacent holes. Frequently, golfers on one are playing parallel to another foursome. So it’s not uncommon for two shots from differing holes to lay next to each other. And let’s face it, some folks simply pick up a ball or play the wrong one. An estimated placement, then, is the best option a player has to get as close to their original spot as humanly possible.
REPAIRING GREEN DAMAGE
Beginning this year, players are given more leniency toward fixing greens, be it their putting line or elsewhere. This included damage not only from your approach shots, but also from shoes, flag sticks, animals and more. The change takes the discretion from what caused the initial damage out of the equation.
Why this matters: We all want to have an unencumbered line from the ball to the cup, of course. But this is also a pay-it-forward scenario that will help all players. If the group in front of you cleans up one spot on the putting surface, that’s one less you have to worry about when you get to that point. You fix one, and the players behind you have one less. Everyone wins.
ENCOURAGING PROMPT PLAY
This alteration in rules essentially demands that courses adopt policies enforcing ready golf. The most noticeable difference is that players are asked to make their shots within 40 seconds (or less) of the field in front of them allowing safe shots after finding their ball and grabbing the club.
Why this matters: We might as well go ahead and call this a new rule in the face of the cell phone era. Because it has been instituted not for errant shots, but for those in the middle of the fairway or just off it where the search for a ball isn’t needed. Instead, players now have the added distraction of texts and phone calls slowing down the game. It will take some self-policing to enforce this new time limit, but it will do wonders for the speed of a round.