A recent topic addressed the idea of modifying golf in an attempt to make the game more enjoyable.
There’s nothing new to the idea of simplifying or modifying rules in games. Rules are changed in Monopoly and Scrabble. Poker can become a completely different game by making various cards wild. When playing pickup games of football or basketball, our rules were nothing like those of official high school, NCAA, or the pro ranks. Even these levels of the same game have variance in the rules.
So it’s not that weird for the rules to change for casual golf or a practice round. Even golf leagues break the rules of golf to make the play faster, easier and more enjoyable in an attempt to get more to participate.
In these circumstances, golf is whatever those playing together can agree upon…. or not. I’ve been criticized for not taking an illegal drop on the green side of a hazard, for not repositioning the ball to get a better lie, and for not taking a mulligan or breakfast ball. “You’re just making the game harder than it has to be” I’ve been told.
Modifying the rules for casual golf is not an issue. But some want to actually amend the rule book because they feel some rules are just too hard. My favorite example… “I couldn't find the ball even though I saw it stay in the fairway from the tee box. I shouldn't have to suffer a stroke and distance penalty”. Again, it’s fine to take a drop in a casual game. I’ll do it all day long on a busy course.
But that one act automatically turns an official round into a practice round.
The rules of golf and the handicap system are standards. Choose to play by the rules and you know exactly where you stand compared to others who do the same. Use the handicap system and it not only gives a poor player a fair chance to beat a better one, it also forces the better player to bring his or her best game to the competition. What other sport does that?
Then there’s what constitutes a regulation course and the variations that exist from one course design to another. In addition, each course offers more variation in differing sets of tees. The best part about this system is that the difficulty of each is accounted for. I don’t fully understand the rating system, but it seems relatively logical, even if a bit convoluted. Playing from 6500 yards is more difficult than playing from 5800. The change in the rating and slope of each set of tees reflects that. More importantly, each players may find either option more enjoyable than the other on a given day.
The rules, handicap system and course rating system are pretty damned good as is. What’s even better is that no one is sticking a gun to my head making me follow the rules or keep score. If anything, more pressure is applied to break the rules in favor of faster play. I find it ironic that I tend to play more by the rules when playing a solo round, considering I can’t apply those rounds to an official handicap index.
While specific rule-breaking during a practice round may hone some skills, scoring lower as a result does not make me a better player. For me, leaving the flag in on short putts makes that part of the game easier. It’s psychological more than anything else, but I stopped doing it on all but the busiest days. Why? Because I want to get better at that skill in the event I start playing official competitions. The same goes with abiding by any of the rules.
I hope to get to the point where this desire to improve starts to subside a little. I want to have more days where my enjoyment on the course is less dependent on the score. But I’m not there yet. I still want to get considerably better. To me, the only way that happens is to include rounds where I play 100% by the rules and from a set of tees or a course rating that challenges the limits of my distance and ability.