Earlier this summer, golf's ruling bodies -- the United States Golf Association and Royal & Ancient -- indicated that they would severely limit what information would allowed in green reading material starting in 2019. (It was a hot topic, and our article received nearly 400 comments.)
But after a six-week review period that recently ended, they announced on Monday a new interpretation of Rule 4.3 (Use of Equipment) that merely limits the size and scale of detailed putting maps that players may use during a round to assist with reading lines of play on the putting green.
While the ruling does put some restrictions on the use of these guides, it doesn't go nearly as far as the recommendations the USGA and R&A made this summer. Chief among them was that the books could could not show slopes of less than 4 percent or 2.9 degrees, essentially leaving the charts to indicate slopes that would be obvious. In other words, the guides wouldn not have been allowed to show the subtle breaks, especially near the hole. But this latest ruling pretty much validates the use of the books and guides in their present form as long as they're not too big or too detailed.
This is good news for golfers who currently use these guides and certainly a victory for companies like GolfLogix and StrackaLine, the latter of which has scanned more than 900 golf courses and provides guides for players on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, colleges and other competitive and recreational players. The greens maps feature arrows that show contours and fall lines, in addition to slope percentage on the green. All that information will continue to be legal in the foreseeable future.
"Essentially, they left all the detail in the book," said Jim Stracka, founder and president of San Diego-based StrackaLine. "They just limited the size of it."
Thomas Pagel, senior managing director of governance for the USGA, said that the latest modifications simply "provide practical changes that that make the interpretation easier to understand and apply in the field."
"We’re thankful for everyone’s willingness to provide feedback as we worked through the process of identifying a clear interpretation that protects the essential skill of reading a green, while still allowing for information that helps golfers enjoy the game," he said.
Stracka was one of the industry professionals who provided feedback to the USGA. He met with Pagel a few weeks ago during the U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach.
"I really felt that he was sincerely trying to understand how people used the books, how much more information can be used in the books and where it's all going," Stracka said. "So I did a total dump of everything for him... What I told him is that players are not using all the data that's available. It's too much information."
Stracka said he believes the USGA and R&A were worried that players were getting too much information, but he assured them almost all players are using it just as a guide, to get a start, much like a player would use a yardage book. While the technology is available, on a smartphone, for example, to plot the putt and line (like viewers can see on TV), that's not what players are doing with the guides.
"They were worried that someone was going to be able to calculate an exact read. We have that technology. But nobody uses that during a tournament," Stracka said. "I think once they got comfortable that there is no exactness to putting, then they backed off all the 4 percent stuff and all. They focused on just the size of the books. Basically, as long as it fits in a pocket, you're pretty much good to go."
Additionally, StrackaLine -- which sells a lot of course-specific books to golf facilities, who then sell them to players -- plans to submit its guides to the USGA going forward. They can then sell the books, whether in print or online as "USGA approved."
So what does this mean?
It means that the USGA isn’t making a ruling that's really changing the game as it's currently played. While some observers might think these guides slow down the game, the argument can be made that they can speed it up as well – if they're used properly. As long as you start your green reading process -- whether it's by plumb-bobbing, using AimPoint or a greens guide – before it's your time to putt, your pace of play should be just fine.
And does it give players a huge advantage? Probably not huge, but perhaps those who aren't great at reading greens can get a boost from these guides. The same can be said about rangefinders as well, but they’re here to stay.
And while green reading is important, we all know that making a good putting stroke isn't exactly automatic. Just ask some of the best players in the world who have resorted to all kinds of gimmicks (long putters, claw grips, etc.) to steady their stroke.
Reading greens is an important part of the equation, but the less important part. It's really just a tool. In the end, the players (and caddie, if applicable) still have to decide what the line is and then execute the right speed and direction. The two latter tasks are much easier said than done.
More on the interpretation
Here's exactly what the USGA and R&A have said regarding green reading material:
Golfers may continue to use a putting-green map or other putting-green information, except that:
- Any image of a putting green must be limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards (1:480) or smaller (the “scale limit”).
- Any book or other paper containing a map or image of a putting green must not be larger than 4 ¼ inches x 7 inches (the “size limit”), although a “hole location sheet” that displays nine or more holes on a single sheet of paper may be larger, provided that any image of a single putting green meets the scale limit.
- No magnification of putting-green information is allowed other than a player’s normal wearing of prescription glasses or lenses.
- Hand-drawn or written information about a putting green is only allowed if contained in a book or paper meeting the size limit and written by the player and/or his or her caddie.
The final interpretation also clearly defines that any use of electronic or digital putting-green maps must comply with the same limits. A player is still in breach of Rule 4.3 if the player uses any device not consistent with the purpose of the limits, including:
- Increasing the size of the green’s representation beyond the scale or size limits.
- Producing a recommended line of play based on the location (or estimated location) of the player’s ball (see Rule 4.3a(1)).
Some of the changes made to the original proposal following the feedback period include the removal of: (1) the proposed minimum slope indication limit of 4% and (2) the prohibition against using handwritten notes to create a copy or facsimile of a detailed green map.
Additions to the original proposal include: (1) a new size limit for the printed book/material (restricted to pocket-size), (2) a new prohibition against magnification of putting green information and (3) a new requirement that that any hand-drawn or written information must be in a book or on a paper meeting the size limit and must be written by the player and/or his or her caddie.
The USGA and The R&A will continue to evaluate the future development and use of green-reading materials, as they ascertain the impact of the new interpretation to see if further modifications are necessary.
As for what the future of using technology to make putts holds, Tiger Woods gave us a glimpse this week on Twitter: