The USGA along with the Royal & Ancient announced a new modern set of golf rules Monday designed to take a large and complicated rule book and make it smaller and easier to understand. Doug Hoffmann, the rules and competitions director for the Minnesota Golf Association, chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand about the national and local impact of the changes.
Q: What are your impressions of the new rules as you understand them?
A: I’ve been following since the original release about a year ago. I really like them. The finished rules, I think, have done a nice job of first and foremost in modernizing the game — which not only comes in the language but also simplifying and making them seemingly more common sense. … I really applaud them for going as far as they did and really looking at everything. Would have been easy to focus on the rules that are more confusing, but for them to start at Rule 1 and go all the way through was impressive.
Q: Will the bigger impact be on how golf is played or perceived?
A: I think from how the game is played and perceived is really a positive on both fronts. I really don’t feel any of the changes are impacting how the game is designed to be played, whether it’s you and I going to play for a soda or guys playing in the State Amateur or State Open. The game is still being played the way it’s meant to be played. But perception is very important. Everywhere you looked you had tour players, even guys like Jack Nicklaus, talking about how difficult the rules are. If those people are talking about how difficult the rules are, the perception is the game is difficult and it’s going to deter players from getting involved in the game. We could never get past the perception and that barrier to going out for the fun of playing.
Q: It seems like some of the rule changes are designed for both simplicity but also to help improve the pace of a round. Is that how you see it?
A: I think that’s a good way to look at it. For example, some of most notable ones — you can putt with the flagstick in the hole, even if you think it’s going to help you. And if you’re searching for your golf ball and inadvertently kick it, there’s no penalty — just put it back where it was. … Another one that’s very player-friendly for higher handicap players is if you’re in local group, we can set it so the max score is double par. It’s not going to be at the highest level, but that’s a local rule that can be adopted. Just pick it up and go on and enjoy golf for the camaraderie, experiences and getting outside.
Q: Any potential problems you can see arising from the changes?
A: I’m a little concerned that they have to announce [the revised rules] this early and get people adjusted, but while they are going to change they haven’t changed yet. They don’t even want people testing these rules this year. … But overall, for those of us in the business, it’s really significant for making the game more playable and I think it’s going to make it more fun and less frustrating in that you’re going to be able to take a more common-sense approach to how it works. And the bottom line is players are still going to have to know the rules.