Golf Channel promotes ‘Relaxed Rules’ initiative

Golf Channel is promoting "Relaxed Rules" initiative, aimed at making the game more enjoyable and faster.
Golf Channel is promoting "Relaxed Rules" initiative, aimed at making the game more enjoyable and faster. ( Courtesy of Golf Channel )

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let me start with a confession: In the 20-plus years that I’ve played golf, I can never recall walking back to the tee after hitting a ball out of bounds. In fact, in the lone instance I can recall a former colleague returning to the tee, I distinctly remember feeling horrified that the group behind us would take exception.

I also doubt that I’ve ever taken the full five minutes allowed to search for a lost ball. Two minutes tops. Then, as with balls hit OB, I’ll throw one down, take a penalty stroke and move on. The last thing I want to do is hold up play.

Oh, and this: I’ve been known to give myself tap-ins.

So now you know the truth about me. I am a rogue, a charlatan, a shyster. Or, more likely, I’m probably just a typical American golfer.

If there ever were any doubts about that, they were alleviated last week when I attended a Golf Channel outing to promote the channel’s “Relaxed Rules” initiative. The campaign sprung from Golf Channel’s decision to use its “big megaphone,” as senior vice president Geoff Russell puts it, to help grow the game. Following a 2013 PGA Tour season littered with rules disputes, Russell said he and Golf Channel president Mike McCarley hit upon a simple theme: “Golf is too complicated.”

“When a PGA Tour player who plays for a living can’t get the ruling right, it feels a little like the tax code,” Russell said.

Golf Channel surveyed golfers of all ability levels, and 85 percent “said golf needs a simpler set of rules or they would be comfortable with a more relaxed option to the Rules of Golf,” Russell said. (He was quick to add that if you’re playing a match and money is on the line, use the Rules of Golf to navigate any potential disputes.)

So Russell assembled a small team that came up with seven simple rules to serve as an alternative to rigid adherence to the 210-page Rules of Golf. Among the Relaxed Rules: double par is the maximum score; all penalties are one stroke; there are no equipment restrictions; and when in doubt, use common sense. (More details are available at: golfchannel.com/tv/golf-fun/.)

“We wanted a set of rules that would fit on half a sheet of paper,” Russell said. “If we’re going to make them simple, we need to really make them simple.”

The avid players who attended Golf Channel’s recent outing at ChampionsGate Golf Club near Orlando, Fla., didn’t seem offended by the initiative. These are people who already had booked 80, 90, in some cases more than 100 rounds this year just through GolfNow, Golf Channel’s discount tee-time service.

Matt Ginella, part of the channel’s “Morning Drive” crew and one of the spokesmen for the campaign, said he gets a common response when he discusses Relaxed Rules with golfers: “People say, ‘It’s what I play anyway.’ ”

In fact, after the round, attendees were only too happy to offer their own Relaxed Rules suggestions: after double par, move up a set of tees; no more than one shot in a bunker; if you hit two balls OB or in the water, take double par and move on. There were many other suggestions, but you get the drift. In each of those examples, the goal was to keep the game moving.

Part of the thinking behind the initiative is to provide what Russell calls a “bunny slope” for new players who might be intimidated by the game’s complexities. But its appeal is obvious even to the most experienced of golfers. Ginella uses himself as an example. He recalled playing recently in a tournament in Waterville, Ireland.

“That’s the first time I remember playing stroke-and-distance in a long, long time,” he said. “I’m avid about the game. I love and appreciate and respect the integrity of the game. And I don’t play by the Rules of Golf unless it’s designated at the start. That’s the way it should be.”