GOLF: New years, new rules on area courses

GOLFERS ARE NOW free to putt with the flagstick in the cup with no penalty for hitting an unattended flagstick, one of many changes to the Rules of Golf authorized by the game’s ruling co-managers the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association and put into practice Jan. 1.

The move, along with some of the other rule changes, is intended to speed up the pace of play for recreational golfers. But it also allows for PGA Tour professionals to putt with the flag in (either attended or unattended) and many did so last weekend at the first tour stop of the new year, the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.

Bryson DeChambeau was the first PGA Tour player to adopt the style (not on every putt or every hole) and he gained seven strokes on the field with his putting over the weekend and finished the tournament in seventh place. The improvement can’t be directly tied to the new rule, but a number of studies conducted over the past few decades have shown putting with the flagstick in to be more successful than with the flag out.

So expect more scrutiny of that rule, particularly if more pros choose to keep the flagstick in the pin.

Other changes include the dropping procedure. Golfers must now drop from knee height rather than shoulder height. This is to prevent multiple drops on steep slopes, but the new rule already has seen criticism, with pros wondering why drops can’t be made from knee to shoulder height.

Relief now can be taken using the longest club in their bag, minus the putter.

There will no longer be a penalty for double-hitting a shot. Golfers will simply count the single stroke they took to strike the ball, rather than counting two shots for hitting the ball twice.

Golf courses are now allowed to install a local rule that golfers can drop a new ball in the vicinity of where their ball has gone out of bounds, with a two-stroke penalty.

This could prevent the walk of shame back to the tee box to tee up another drive if area courses adopt the rule. But you won’t see it professionally, this one is for recreational golfers.

There is now no penalty for accidentally moving your ball on the green or when looking for it. It is deemed that a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is virtually certain they did.

Pace of play

The five-minute ball search time has been scrapped and reduced to three minutes.

Golf’s governing bodies also are encouraging ready golf in stroke play and recommend golfers take no longer than 40 seconds over a shot.

Repairs/hazards

Spike marks can now be repaired as well as other damage on the putting green. There is also no penalty for merely touching the line of a putt.

The ground can now be touched with a club in a hazard and golfers can move loose impediments in a hazard without penalty.

As well as that loose impediments in bunkers can be moved and will not be penalized for generally grounding their club away from their ball.

Stays the same

Golfers still cannot ground their club when playing a bunker shot. An unplayable lie may be taken in a bunker, with a drop out for two strokes.

Midwinter Open

Golfers have the chance to try out the new regulations Saturday when SkyRidge Golf Course in Sequim hosts its annual Midwinter Open 3-Person Scramble.

The event has a 9:30 a.m. shotgun start (barring frost).

Three drives and three second shots must be used by each player during the round and each three-person team must have a total handicap index of 15 or higher.

The cost is $100 per team ($33 per player) with range balls, two KPs, a team LP and a late afternoon lunch part of the fee. A $60 honey pot per team also is available.

Power carts are $12 per person.

To get in on the fun, call SkyRidge at 360-683-3673.

New Year’s Shootout

Peninsula Golf Club in Port Angeles will hold its first annual New Year’s Shootout on Saturday.

The two-person team event includes a front nine of scramble format golf and a back nine of shamble format play.

There must be an eight-stroke handicap differential between playing partners.

The event is $30 for members, $50 for nonmembers and includes gross and net merchandise awards, a KP contest and two drink tickets per player.

Call the pro shop to sign up or for more details at 360-457-6501.

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