The First Call Inbox

What to make of the Rules of Golf

The First Call readers share their opinions on the complexity of the game's rules and whether they should be simplified

Question of the week [March 25-31]: Are the Rules of Golf too complicated for the everyday golfer?
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The Rules of Golf aren't necessarily too complicated in their application, but they aren't explained well at all. What the ruling bodies need to do is have a rules book that includes diagrams and simple explanations to go along with their wordy official rules. 

Rob King
Savannah, Georgia

The Rules of Golf are way too complicated for the everyday golfer. Red stakes, yellow stakes, free drops, penalty drops, lift-clean-place, play it down, ready golf, you’re away, you’re up, loose impediments, a whiff is a stroke ... the list goes on forever.

I just caddied for my 10-year-old grandson playing in his first middle school tournament in only his second time on a golf course, playing with USGA rules and from the senior tees at 3,000 yards for nine holes. It was pretty overwhelming for both of us. Plus he had to hit the ball.
Barry Duckworth 
Knoxville, Tennessee

Yes, I do think the rules are too complicated for the average golfer. For example, the differences in how you are allowed to take drops from boundary stakes as opposed to hazard stakes and parallel water hazards markers. Then you have the various options available to a player when they decide to take a drop and a penalty stroke. I think this has all resulted in most average golfers creating their own modified set of rules by which they play.

Bob Norris
Cincinnati, Ohio

Yes, the rules are way too complicated. Imagine someone just learning the game and wanting to follow and learn the rules of golf. Then they come to find out there are 34 rules of golf included in about 200 pages.

I went to a rules seminar a few years ago given by the Northern California Golf Association. It was a seven-hour seminar that covered five of the 34 rules of golf. Talk about a barrier to entry.

Even the pros have to consult with a rules official many times and they play this game for a living. For amateur golfers out for a day of fun with their buddies, the rules should be much easier to follow and pared down to a reasonable and understandable level.

Leon Hurwitz
Palm Springs, California 

Yes, the rules are too complicated and need simplification. Who reads the "Rules of Golf" in 2024, unless you’re paid to? You’d rather be playing. Now we’ve all heard of why Donald Trump never loses and why he is well-known as Pele for his overuse of the foot wedge, but we’re talking about the idea of preserving the ideas of a gentlemen’s game, where ethics and honesty prevail. Let’s remember that it’s a game, not a courtroom murder drama.

Simplify the rules so they can be printed on a business card, both sides if necessary.

Peter Croppo
Bayfield, Ontario

The recent revisions (2019) were definitely a move in the right direction. I still maintain that a divot is ground under repair. Also, the stroke-and-distance penalty is excessive, particularly if you are trying to keep pace.

Mark Kazich
Darien, Illinois

The Rules of Golf are not difficult. There’s just many of them that are stupid, especially on the PGA Tour.

Why do professional golfers have to wear long pants? Why can’t you take a ball out of a divot that you didn’t put there in the fairway? Why can’t someone stand behind you to help line up for a putt? Perhaps the rules should be different for professionals and different for amateurs, which make up 95% of the people playing golf.

Steve Pratt
Ardmore, Pennsylvania

Yes, the rules are too complicated. One must question any set of rules that needs a tome that is inches thick on "Decisions on the Rules of Golf." And FYI, I have been a rules official.

The average person really doesn't care, and the only ones who do are those who compete at a high level. Even local competitions have people in charge who do not know the rules. I wrote my inaugural column, "Your Play", for the Detroit Free Press in 2000 and one sidebar was the main rules a golfer needs to know to play mostly by the rules. One of them noted was out of bounds — the stroke and distance penalty. My editor actually got back to me to say I was wrong and that "Well, you simply drop the ball where you think it went out, and add one penalty stroke." I hooted at that and told him that if he published the piece with my name on it, I'd be a laughingstock in the golf community. He changed it back to my original wording, thank goodness.

Janina Jacobs
St. Clair, Michigan

Are the Rules of Golf too complicated for the everyday golfer? The simple answer is yes. Even the guys playing for a living get confused and they have money at stake. They call in the rules guys because they are not sure. We call in our buddies, who don’t know more than we do. 

I have carried the Rules of Golf book in my bag for years and, no, I’ve pulled it out other than the times I clean out the pockets. Enjoy the game. Play the ball down. Putt the ball until it finds the bottom of the hole. OB is OB. Lateral water is just that. Take a drop and wack it again. If you think a club is illegal, it probably is. Toss it in the corner and buy another. 

Life’s too short. Play from the proper tees. Keep up the pace and above all, have fun. It’s just a game. 

Paul Vicary
The Villages, Florida

The rules seem to be very complicated for the everyday golfer, and sometimes even for the professional. However, everyday golfers too often don’t play by the rules. They play as if the rules don’t apply to them.

Most amateur tournaments are at the point where they might require an official scorer to follow each player or, for sure, each foursome and no mulligans.

Cheat once, you’re disqualified. Cheat twice, no more tournaments.

Solution:  Another rule book, to include, how everyday golfers can shoot better scores.

Rudy Lucero
Colorado Springs, Colorado

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