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Rules Change, Good or Bad for Golf?

By March 1, 2017Caddie News
PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 16:  John Rollins consults with PGA Tour rules officail Gary Young after his ball went into a hole by the 17th green during the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 16, 2013 in Pacific Palisades, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The USGA and R&A have proposed a wide ranging change in the rules of golf, that at first glance seem nothing more than common sense. The rule changes are concise, clear and help streamline the playing of the sport which many argue is too bogged down with rules and regulations that are not really applicable to the every day playing of the sport. A sport played by the majority of people around the world purely for fun.

Currently there are 34 rules of golf and the new proposal will trim it down to 24 easier to understand rules. This makes perfect sense.

But beyond just making the rules easier to understand, it is very clear the underlying theme of the majority of the proposed changes is to help speed up play. Let’s trim the fat to make golf faster. Do we really need to wait to putt until the flag stick is out of the hole?

Should we really waste time by having ourselves be lined up from behind before hitting a shot? Pert of playing golf well, is having the skill to aim the ball where we’d like it go.  It’s an integral skill-set of golf. These rule changes trim the fat. They remove or abate aspects of the sport that slow it down. As a scrabble partner of mine always says, a good game is a quick game, and that applies to golf too. In the past golf at the professional level has tried to shift the blame of slow play onto certain individuals. Those that take too long to hit a shot. And part of that argument holds true. But golf has never really looked at itself and addressed the rules that essentially enable slow players, to play even slower.

Adding a 40 second time allotment makes sense. Golf is a rare sport in that it doesn’t have time constraint, per se. There’s no shot clock, or quarter time buzzer. It’s never been a race. You just go play and add up the shots. That’s good and well for the most part. You against the elements and you against yourself, grinding to get that little ball in the hole. It’s good and well, until it damages the sport we love due to declining participation rates, and the governing bodies are realizing this. Golf is fun, but it takes too long.

Even though I play golf non-professionally, I mostly look at golf from a professionally played standpoint as a PGA Tour caddie, and there are a few changes in the rules that directly involve us. The stand out one being the use of Distance-Measuring Devices (DMDs). GPS, lasers and the likes have been given the green light. It’s hard to make argument against such a proposal, but having said that, I do not see the real world implications of such a rule change, and I do not see how this will speed up the game, at the pro level. At a local level, everyone used them anyway, whether legal or not. The majority of amateur and club level competition played around the world allowed their use, or if nothing else, a blind eye was turned. So for the vast majority of golfers around the traps, this rule change won’t heed much of an affect.

But, at a professional level, this shift in rule could potentially change the way a professional tour caddie does their job. The proposed rule paves the way for professional tours to quickly allow DMDs, without much hoopla. But the rule also, very clearly, allows the insertion of a “local rule” that continues their ban. My feeling is the PGA Tour, at least for the time being, will enforce a “local rule”, that would continue their ban.

Now if I’m wrong on this, what I am certain of is DMDs, given current levels of technology, will not make a caddies’ yardage book obsolete. I would be dead surprised, if DMDs are in fact legalized at the pro ranks, that a caddie would ever enter a tournament round equipped with nothing but a Nikon Laser. I’ve heard many arguments from amateur golfers alike,  “Why would you use a yardage book, rather than the best distance finding technology?, it doesn’t make sense.” And they’re right, it doesn’t make sense, if the only information we provided was a distance to the pin. Our yardage books contain information about all kinds of other distances, not just distance to the hole. Water run-outs, bunker run-outs, fronts of greens, backs of greens, carries.  These distances cannot be accurately measured with the use of a laser because there is nothing hard and fast to point the laser at.  Although rare, there are times the information we give regarding a shot into the green, doesn’t even include a yardage to the pin. And it’s not that easy to point a laser to the front of green from 160 yards, and give a precise number. We could probably get it to within 5 to 10 yards, but that isn’t good enough given the accuracy and precise distance control professional golfers have. Good luck in getting a front green number from 220 yards without yardage book notes.

Maybe the professional tours do end up allowing DMDs.  But if these USGA rule changes were proposed with an end goal of speeding up play, it would backfire at the pro level if lasers and other DMDs were allowed. Play would come to halt if caddies and players equipped themselves with both lasers and yardage books, because then we’d give yardages the old fashioned way, working out angles and stepping off the yards,  then when applicable, we’d all double check things with a laser. One extra step in the yardage gathering process will increase the time taken to hit a shot. That’s what we don’t need.

If we are going to cut out unneccesary time by changing rules that allows caddies to line up players, marking balls on greens, and taking flags out of the hole before putting, then let’s not take two steps forward and one step back by allowing lasers in big league professional play. Remember we are trying to trim the fat here.

Now golf, in it’s purest form, will never become a slick and speedy sport, packed with action from start to end. Nor should golf try to become a slick and speedy sport. The suspense and action in golf is unique, in that it builds over time, but when it’s very clear that people are dropping from golf, because it takes too long to play, the governing bodies would be doing themselves a huge disservice if they do not address these issues head on. Essentially, this is a long winded way of saying, a job well done to the USGA and R&A for addressing slow play. The changes in rules help trim the fat.

— Scott Sajtinac (President of APTC & Caddie for Troy Merritt)

Opinions of Other Caddies

James Edmondson

James Edmondson

Caddie for Ryan Palmer

New Rule: A Caddie not allowed to stand on a line behind a player while the player is taking his or her stance and until the stroke is made.

Response: This will not play a big role on the PGA Tour. Only a handful of guys do this at most. The LPGA will be impacted much more as this is more of a regular practice on that Tour.


New Rule: A Caddie may lift and replace the player’s ball on the putting green without the player’s specific authorization to do so.

Response: I guess I can see the benefit for the pace of play, but to me this won’t matter. It’s not like I would ever do this without Ryan’s permission or request.


New Rule: The use of DMD’s is allowed, unless a Local Rule has been adopted prohibiting their use.

Response: DMD would help speed up play at times. However, players are still going to want to know what it is to carry trouble or max distance to trouble. Pins are still going to be tucked and there will be other numbers that will be needed.

Kip Henley

Kip Henley

Caddie for Brian Gay

New Rule: A Caddie not allowed to stand on a line behind a player while the player is taking his or her stance and until the stroke is made.

Response: A caddie standing behind a player lining them up should have been changed a long time ago. Its crazy that every Tour player doesn’t do it now since its legal. When my guy practices we do it & he almost never misses a fairway. One less thing for him to worry about. I’m glad its changed.


New Rule: A Caddie may lift and replace the player’s ball on the putting green without the player’s specific authorization to do so.

Response: A caddie having the ability to mark his player’s ball is pretty much a useless rule change. It will only help in very specific times & guys will be afraid of rules violations and won’t do it anyway.


New Rule: The use of DMD’s is allowed, unless a Local Rule has been adopted prohibiting their use.

Response: The use of lasers is a bad rule change for tournaments. It won’t help the pace of play at all because players still want to know front numbers & carry numbers. Plus, part of the charm and challenge of the game is players and caddies making errors while playing, especially under pressure late in events.

One Comment

  • dirt says:

    I was a world ranked muzzleloader shooter and could never use a scope I found them useless for me in my caddy days!

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