NHGA Reaches Out With Rulebook Education

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Grantham — Sixteenth-year Hanover High golf coach John Donnelly regularly encourages familiarity with the game’s rules, yet even he learned plenty during a clinic at Eastman Golf Links on Tuesday afternoon.

Donnelly and 19 of his Marauder players were on hand in Eastman’s clubhouse to take in a roughly 90-minute slideshow presented by New Hampshire Golf Association executive director Matt Schmidt.

It was one of five such discussions held this summer by NHGA, which has a seat on the NHIAA Golf Committee and has administered its state championship tournaments since 2016.

Processes to help determine when a ball is officially either out of bounds or in a hazard, how to deal with natural and man-made obstructions and provisional shot options were some of the basics covered at the clinic, which invites players, coaches and parents to attend.

“The first year, we just had one or two of these at the NHIAA headquarters,” said Schmidt. “We wanted to start holding them at clubs, and we’ve had better attendance. We had about 15 people at a recent one at Beaver Meadow (Golf Course in Concord), and we have one at Pease (Golf Course in Portsmouth) coming up. It’s really just a way for anyone to come and learn the basics of the game and ask questions.”

Even Donnelly learned several rules, including that it’s permissible to play a ball resting on a bridge over a water hazard.

“I know just enough about golf to be dangerous,” the coach said. “I’d like to think our players are fairly well-versed in the rules. We talk about them, watch videos and things like that, but this was an opportunity for us to learn from someone who really knows his stuff.”

Schmidt started by covering some of the questions officials ask when issues arise on the course: What happened? When did it happen? How did it happen? Who did it? Why did they do it?

Turning to officials for resolutions can be avoided if players know their options beforehand. All competitive golfers should possess basic procedural knowledge, Schmidt suggested.

“You can ask an official ‘What are my options?’ but you should never ask them, ‘What should I do?’ because they can’t tell you what they think you should do,” he said. “That’s up for you to consider.”

While Schmidt didn’t recommend burrowing into USGA’s 121-page rule book — it’s mind-numbing, he said — he suggested spending some time in its definitions section. It helps explain and clarify terms such as “through the green” (anywhere on the course except the tee, putting green and hazards), “nearest point of relief” (reference point for repositioning the ball away from an immovable obstruction without penalty) and “ground under repair” (areas often marked by stakes that have their own set of parameters).

The difference between out of bounds lines and hazard boundaries was covered, as well as the rules surrounding natural and man-made obstructions. Numerous slideshow page headers reminded players to “play the course as you find it.” Tree and shrub features, sod irregularities such as divots and watery elements like dew and frost should not be altered during play.

There was ample time for questions, and a few Marauders asked about various ball-dropping scenarios. Some appeared surprised to learn that a divot should not be covered by a player’s stance during a drop sequence — at least not on purpose.

“Anytime you’re exerting influence over where the ball could end up, you could run into problems,” Schmidt said.

Hanover senior Kyle Rozzi felt the clinic was a worthwhile take. “It’s so much easier when (players) know the rules,” he said. “It goes so much more smoothly.”

Donnelly has always enjoyed the cooperation and honesty that golf demands. “You’re relying on each other and trusting each other a lot; everything from keeping score on down the line,” he said. “They’re good skills to have.”

Not discussed on Tuesday were any of the USGA rule changes coming in 2019, many of which are aimed at making the game more accessible and less penal. For example, there will no longer be a penalty for accidentally moving your ball or ball marker on the putting green.

“We’re still sticking with the current rules through the fall season, so getting into the changes would just be confusing,” Schmidt said. “I give the USGA credit because there are a lot of changes that will help make the game less complicated. Having too many rules is a big reason why non-golfers say they don’t play, and this could help with that.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.