Whether they know it yet or not, golfers have some little presents waiting for them under their Christmas trees, courtesy of the United States Golf Association, the organization that governs the rules of the sport. A few changes have been made beginning in 2019 that should help make the game more fun, fair and “user-friendly.”

I won’t try to cover all the rules changes in this column or to cite them chapter and verse, but I will mention some that made me smile when I read about them.

Golfers can now repair a spike mark on a green before putting, just as they could always repair a ball mark. That former restriction never made much sense anyway.

Another nice modification is that if a player’s ball moves a bit after the marker has been picked up or just as the player is about to putt, the ball can simply be put back where it was without any penalty stroke. (But most casual golfers probably just did that anyway.)

Players can now choose to leave the pin in on the green when they putt, although I get the impression that if the putt hits the pin without falling in the hole, the putt will not count as good. So most players will probably still choose to remove the pin, unless they play alone and would rather save a little time.

One of my personal favorites is that a double strike will now count only as a single stroke instead of as two strokes. This usually happens on a short putt or a chip where a nervous golfer has decelerated and then picked up speed just as the ball is struck, causing the club head to hit the ball twice in a millisecond. Golfers who have ever struggled with “the yips” might have experienced this mishap a few times. Now we won’t have to bear the extra embarrassment of adding another stroke if this happens.

Another win for common sense relates to shots that may or may not be out-of-bounds or in hazards. Often golfers are not sure after a poor shot whether the ball stayed in play or not, and the recommendation was that they should play a “provisional shot” — usually from the tee — in case their first shot did end up out-of-bounds or in a hazard. If a player neglected to do that and then could not find their ball, he or she was supposed to go all the way back to the tee to hit their third shot. Now another option is that the player can simply drop a ball in play near where the original shot went out, and from that point the hole would proceed with their fourth shot. As with some of the other rule changes, this one probably permits something that a lot of golfers already did anyway. And the change should improve the speed of play while easing a few consciences, too.

Like most golfers here in Wallowa County, I play mostly at Alpine Meadows, our beautiful nine-hole course in Enterprise. As others will attest, it is well-maintained, economical, scenic and subtly challenging because of the convex contours of most of the greens. In the same spirit as the USGA has made improvements in the rules, I will offer several friendly suggestions for the folks who run our local course.

I would love it if the greens were a little slower. This would be possible as a mowing and maintenance policy, and would probably lead to fewer three putts and happier summer golfers.

And I will renew the recommendations that I offered in a Chieftain column in 2017 regarding the seventh green, which is challenging enough all by itself because of its humps and ridges without adding some of the unnecessary woes that surround it. I would like to see the fringe area behind and to the right of the green widened and the grass there left longer so that good shots that land on the green do not stray too far into the hazard or out-of-bounds area. And I would welcome a solid fence beside the green on the boundary side, so that shots that land to the left of the fence remain in bounds.

Just as golfers nationwide should celebrate the changes in the USGA rules, I think our local golfers would enjoy a few user-friendly improvements too.

John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph. He is a sometimes frustrated but mostly happy member at Alpine Meadows.

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