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NorCal Hickory Rule - putting

400
"The Stymie", by Artist J. C. Dollman, Circa 1899

I'm not advocating the return of the stymie for medal play, but would like to propose that the USGA rule of 2 penalty strokes for hitting another ball on the putting surface, be lifted for hickory play so as to encourage more players to keep their golf balls on the green rather than automatically mark, lift and clean, out of habit.

The SoHG instructs us that we should play hickory golf with modern USGA rules with a few exceptions:
  • No range finders or distance measuring devices
  • 14 club limit lifted
  • Equipment exceptions such as concave faces, "BakSpin" grooves, etc allowed as per SoHG equipment guidelines which includes approved reproduction balls, reproduction clubs, and a host of other equipment exceptions.
I always strive to be authentic to the hickory experience as I can, by not marking my ball just because it is on the putting surface. I have put a lot of effort into weaning myself away from the habit and process of marking my ball, cleaning it, (which often means licking the pesticides and fertilizers - yuckie!) and then aligning some label at the hole.

Recently I found myself in a tournament about 6 feet above the hole on a fairly steep green. The three of us in the group this day, all prescribed to the authentic experience and only marked our balls when they were an obstruction. The golf balls of my fellow competitors lay off to the side of the hole and below it about 4 feet. They weren't in any way an obstruction, a distraction, nor even on the through line in any danger of being hit should I miss, but I insisted they mark them. Why? Because if my ball should happen to lip-out, there was a good chance it would be redirected and potentially hit one of theirs. The result would have been a 2 stroke penalty according to the USGA rules (19-5) governing the tournament as per SoHG guidelines.

USGA rule 19-5a:
If a player’s ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by a ball in play and at rest, the player must play his ball as it lies. In match play, there is no penalty. In stroke play, there is no penalty, unless both balls lay on the putting green prior to the stroke, in which case the player incurs a penalty of two strokes.

On an August afternoon in sunny California a group arrives at a green. There are no pitch marks, the green is firm, and all lay 20 feet from one another. What is the first thing everyone does? Marks, lifts their ball and places it in their pocket. When it's their turn to putt, they squat behind the ball, and then go through the ritual of lining up some distinguished marking on their ball with the hole. The marking can be anything from a simple stamping on the ball to an ugly permanent marker around the circumference. If the ball finishes anything further than a tap-in, the process is repeated. With everyone within close proximity of the hole, the threat of a penalty for hitting another ball justifies marking, but a lot of times, the ball is in no way an interference. And that is what I'd like to see change; the penalty lifted.

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Everyone would agree this is UGLY!

I'm not advocating the return of the stymie for medal play, but would like to propose that the USGA rule of 2 penalty strokes for hitting another ball on the putting surface, be lifted for hickory play so as to encourage more players to keep their golf balls on the green rather than automatically mark, lift and clean, out of habit.

Are there situations where this rule change may gain an unfair advantage such as a speedy downhill putt racing further by? Of course, that is why the rule was adopted, but I think the spirit of hickory play, outweigh the potential for gaining a slight advantage in those circumstances. AND there is nothing that stops the good-spirited hickory golfer, to ask fellow competitor to mark ball in such instances out of respect for fairness of play.

What do you think?