published Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Casual rules make golf more fun for some

Jean St. Charles, a 25-year U.S.G.A. certified rules official, talks about the rules of golf as players pass on the par-3, 7th at Council Fire on Tuesday.
Jean St. Charles, a 25-year U.S.G.A. certified rules official, talks about the rules of golf as players pass on the par-3, 7th at Council Fire on Tuesday.
Photo by Tim Barber.
COMMON CASUAL RULES

• Out of bounds: Play it like a hazard and drop close to where it went out with a one-stroke penalty.

• Get a good lie: Players can move the ball (with hands, feet or a club) within a grip-length ... anywhere on the course.

• Breakfast ball: All players are allowed to hit two shots off the first tee, especially if they haven't warmed up.

• Do-over: Take one mulligan per nine holes and use it for any shot on course, including putts.

• Max putting: There's no need to physically putt four times on one green. If it's not in after three, it's good on four.

• Approximate drops: Close enough is good enough for any necessary drop, so two lengths is about right.

Source: Devere Keller, Moccasin Bend head golf professional

Brandon Burge plays by the rules -- friendly rules.

Well, he and his golfing buddies play the game by the general principles of hitting the ball, finding the ball, hitting it again.

But by no means do they follow every line in the Rules of Golf. In fact, at times, they disregard the book in favor of more lenient guidelines to help them play faster, enjoy the game more and shoot better scores.

"You're going out there to have fun, and you adjust the rules with your group," said Burge, who plays Chattanooga-area public courses at least twice a month. "We're not sticklers."

A decision by the two governing bodies of golf -- the USGA and the R&A -- to ban the anchoring of a putter opened dialogue on both sides of the Atlantic about the possible need for two sets of rules for the game of golf. The word-for-word rules would apply to tournament golf. A more lenient and forgiving set of rules would apply to casual and recreational play.

"Tournament golf -- and that starts with juniors all the way up to the PGA -- any tournament should be played by the rules set forth by the USGA," said Moccasin Bend head golf professional Devere Keller, whose core clientele are recreational golfers. "But if you're a casual golfer who's not interested in tournaments and wants to go with buddies and enjoy a round of golf, there should be a different set of rules.

"That's how they're going to play anyway, so don't make them feel guilty about it."

But is that really playing golf?

"My thinking is that there are two games played on a golf course," said Jean St. Charles, who has been a USGA certified rules official for 25 years. "One is the game of golf which is played by the rules. The other is just a game played on a golf course, and you can play any way you want to."

One aspect of golf that appeals to most players is that they can play by the same set of rules as the best players in the world. And if they want, they can do so from the same set of tees on some PGA Tour courses, including TPC Sawgrass, The Greenbrier and Pebble Beach.

Some public courses such as Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines and Whistling Straights have held major championships in the last five years and are open for any golfer to test their skill against the course and endure the same punishment as the best players in the game.

Playing golf on the weekend with a set of casual rules is akin to playing touch football, three-on-three basketball or indoor soccer. It's essentially the same game that the pros play, but with a set of looser rules that all participants have agreed upon.

"As long as they're having a good time, it's not our place to tell somebody how they're supposed to play the game if it's not in a tournament atmosphere," Council Fire golf professional Richard Rebne said. "Golf is a self-policing sport, so it's up to the individual."

Yet Rebne admits he plays and has taught his children to play exactly by the rules written by the USGA.

"I'm more of a stickler because that's how the game is supposed to be played," he said. "You hit it; you find it; you hit it again. My kids will tell you I'm a stickler. I like to see them putt everything out. Maybe that's because I've always played tournament golf."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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