When changes were first mooted to create a new, modernised version of the Rules of Golf, perhaps one of the last people you might assume to advocate change would be Sir Bob Charles.
As a former British Open champion it stands to reason he would fall into the category of a conservative wanting to uphold the game’s traditions. But on the contrary, Charles is more like a freethinking radical who implores change for the sake of the game’s vitality.
When the R&A and USGA first called for comment about rule changes, Charles got on the front foot and submitted a whole list of suggestions he thought would improve enjoyment of the game and speed of play for the masses. And some of his suggestions have made it into the final revisions for The New Rules Of Golf that go into effect on January 1, 2019 (outlined in this issue).
Having spoken with Charles at last year’s New Zealand Women’s Open at Windross Farm, he was adamant his ideas would work: “I guarantee if they use my rules they could knock 30 minutes – comfortably – off a round of golf.”
First and foremost, he proposed leaving the flagstick in the hole while putting as a simple way of saving minutes. The governing bodies have adopted this initiative.
The length of time searching for a ball was another area that frustrates Charles. Rulemakers have shortened the maximum allotted search time from five minutes to three minutes. But Charles believes two minutes is sufficient “because if you can’t find your ball in two minutes, you’re not going to find that ball”.
Hitting a provisional ball was another irritation. Rather than walking backwards to re-load, he advocates using a line of entry to determine an appropriate place to play the next shot after a lost ball.
“I don’t believe there should be any such thing as a provisional. Scrap provisionals. You play from where you last saw that ball going – whether it be in the water, out-of-bounds, in a hedge. Line of entry. Drop a ball. Keep moving.”
Under the new rules, non-elite golfers will be able to drop in the vicinity of a lost ball or out-of-bounds under a two-stroke penalty.
But why two shots? Charles feels that’s too much of an impost. He recalls on the US PGA Tour in the early 1960s that a tee shot out-of-bounds meant playing the second off the tee, not a third as it now stands.
“There are so many inequities in the rules of golf, to my thinking. I respect the traditions of the game but you’re talking about rules that have evolved over the years. For 250 years they’ve been arguing about what you do if you hit it out-of-bounds.”
At the age of 82,Sir Bob Charles appears as passionate about the game as ever. And as somebody who has designed courses, he understands – more than most – the importance of making the game playable for the less accomplished.