The rules of golf can be modified locally by any committee. For example, on smaller courses, the managers or the superintendents create them. It is their prerogative to make their course easier or more difficult to play. For the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, the USGA implemented a local rule that changes how players interact with stones in the numerous natural bunkers. If you’re curious as to why then I recommend you read on.
Phil Mickelson claims that, in 2004, a rock behind his ball on Shinnecock Hills’ 17th hole significantly contributed to a double-bogey and caused him to miss his career grand slam. I for one am not about to dispute his claim, and I can appreciate how a loose impediment behind my own ball could be a recipe for disaster.
In a move that could prevent this heartbreak from occurring again, “The USGA is implementing a local rule that will allow players to remove stones and small pebbles from bunkers without penalty. Instead of treating them as loose impediments, they’ll be considered movable obstructions.” (Golfworld).
Here is how it works for the players:
As a fledgeling rules official, I can appreciate why the USGA’s change is significant. However, I have one major concern with this decision. The ability to touch the sand without impunity allows for things like ‘testing’ the sand or ‘accidentally’ moving your ball to improve your lie. That being said, I choose to believe that the professionals at the US Open are better than that and will follow the spirit of the local rule.
Adopting local rules to make golf better is always a good thing. We have a few local rules for safety at my home course of Osprey Links and they are a valuable contributor to maximizing the playability of the course.
Local rules are important! Ensure you ask or read the scorecard to learn the local rules of any course you play.
Does your favorite course have any local rules?
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!