Guidelines and "Rules" of the AGA

The AGA does not have one set of rules.  Instead, we provide guidelines and alternatives and allow players to pick those they feel most helps playability.  The goals of these guidelines are:

            1. Make golf less frustrating and more enjoyable.
            2. Improve your game by rewarding the good shots and reducing the cost of bad shots.

Our rules are not intended to be “goofy.” Each has a logic. Our guidelines consist of ten rules -- five “primary” and five “secondary.” Primary rules are the basis of alternative golf, so they are recommended for all AGA rounds. Secondary rules make the game easier and faster, thereby encouraging learning and minimizing the frustration that results from bad shots.

We also have social rules, which might be better described as un-rules because they loosen up traditional restrictions.

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The Ten "Rules" of the AGA

Primary Rules

1. Tee the ball anywhere on the course.

This rule allows the player to avoid skulls and chunks. It is said Nancy Lopez learned how to play golf this way for her first several years and it kept her in the game. It also encourages good shots and less frustration. As the golfer becomes more proficient, you simply lower the tee until eventually you may not need it at all. In the meantime, the combination of a tee and high-spin AGA wedge allows the golfer to get over a bunker and land on the green with a clean shot that stops quickly. 

This also preserves the golf course by minimizing divots.  It is believed that as much as two-thirds of all golf course maintenance costs are due to the "play it where it lies" USGA rule.

2. Move ball six feet anywhere no closer to the hole.
           This, combined with No. 5, allows the AGA golfer more freedom to avoid stymies and bad lies. It speeds play because the golfer no 
            longer needs to deliberate over a shot that lands behind a tree.

3. Two-putt maximum.

The most time -onsuming part of golf is putting.  With a two-putt limit, the golfer is encouraged to go for the hole on the first shot. An estimated 80 percent of putts by amateur golfers come up short! The two-putt maximum not only increases speed of play, it encourages proper putting technique to at least make it to the hole. 

4. Hit when ready = (1 stroke ob)

This is already practiced by many recreational golfers. The idea of having to wait everybody’s turn based on distance from the hole slows down the game dramatically.

5. Change balls at any time.

By changing balls, the golfer can carry multiple balls for different types of shots. These might include a low-cost, two-piece hard ball for driving (such as a TopFlite), and a multi-cover softer ball for higher spin and feel (such as a Titleist ProV1) for short shots and putts. Not only does this improve the economics for the golfer (not losing expensive balls on errant drives), but it also allows the use of different balls for different shots. For example, there are “short balls” designed for maximum distance flight of less than 60 yards and permit a full swing during approach shots.

Secondary Rules

6. One mulligan per hole.

This rule has two benefits. First, it reduces the pressure for every single golf shot to be perfect. Second, it improves skill level because 75% of second swings are much better than the first, and that leads to improved muscle memory for future shot making.
The rule requires that you declare the mulligan and then have to play it, so it is not a “freebie.” 
This will also encourage speedy play, because little time is wasted looking for an errant shot or trying to get out of trouble from the first shot. 

7. Drop one hole score per six holes.

Most sports do not record every single attempt. Olympic sports, for example, may use the best of three attempts or races. Baseball has three strikes. Football has four downs. This rule is intended to reduce the likelihood of a bad few holes a round ruining the entire day and score.

The dropping score must be declared at the finish of that hole, and there is no carry-over to the next six holes if the drop is not used in the first six.  This encourages strategy in trying to decide when to use the drop score feature, and it gives three decision points during the game.

8. No limit of clubs, and sharing is OK.

The 14-club rule does not make any logical sense, unless more overload a caddie. The AGA encourages playing with fewer clubs, such as adjustable irons, and using multiple putters for different shots. Sharing clubs is encouraged to help players test other equipment and see what might be best for them. 

9. One stroke out of bounds, no distance penalty.

Instead of both stroke and distance, this rule reduces excess penalties for OB and allows the ball to be placed at approximately the same distance it would have been, but in the rough next to the fairway. 

10. One shot out of trap.

If a ball goes into a trap, the AGA permits placement outside of the trap no closer to the hole, with a one-shot penalty. Alternatively, the golfer can take one shot from the trap, but if he misses, he must then place the ball outside of the trap for an additional stroke. This rule encourages poorer sand players to avoid the sand and speed up the game.

Social Rules Rules by Logic

While most courses are moving toward relaxed social rules, the AGA actively encourages updating the game with today’s lifestyle. Some of the clothing worn on golf courses would seem outrageous in a business setting, yet denim is prohibited at many clubs. Simple decency and comfort would dictate what clothes are truly golf-appropriate, and the AGA observes this policy.

Electronic devices are also encouraged as long as they don’t interfere with other’s play. 

Similarly, conversations don’t have to stop just because someone is hitting a ball. Michael Jordan didn’t worry about all the screaming when he stepped to the free-throw line, so why must USGA golfers get angry if someone steps on a twig during their backswing?

Heckling and jaw talk is permitted as long as each member in the group agrees. However, it should be kept within the group and should not disturb other groups who might be playing USGA rules. 

The Supporting Evidence

It is how you drive.

Current belief:  It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.

  • - You can’t score if you can’t get there.
  • - Being 200 yards out vs. 140 is night and day for the average golfer.
  • - The drive IS the big shot in golf. 
  • - If not, then executive courses and par 3"s would be thriving and everyone would be playing the shortest set of tees.

AGA solution:  250-yd driver/shaft/ball for average swing speeds.

Shortening tees and widening holes won’t work.

Current belief:  Make courses shorter by adding forward tees (Barney Adams) and enlarging the holes (Jack Nicklaus).

  • - The drive is the most fun of all shots, but also golf is one of few sports you can play as you age.
  • - Moving up on tees is already available, and few choose to.
  • - Big holes are harder than they look, which leads to more frustration.
  • - An 8" hole is 3.5 x larger than USGA.  A 10’ putt will miss the hole if alignment is off by only ONE degree.

AGA solution:  The long driver and a rule of maximum two or three putts.  We are looking for a driver/ball which can add 20% distance for an average 85 mph swing (240 yards vs. 200 yards).

You won’t go to jail for using "illegal equipment."

Current belief:  You are cheating if you don’t use USGA-approved equipment.

  • - It’s a myth that recreational golfers won’t buy because of USGA rules.
  • - People have bought nonconforming equipment when it worked (Ping square grooves, ERC2).
  • - Current nonconforming equipment doesn’t perform per AGA.
  • - There’s a big opportunity for driver/ball that adds 20%.

AGA solution: A series of irons, wedges, putters and, of course, long driver/ball that improve distance, spin, accuracy and feel vs. USGA equipment.

You won’t go to jail for playing your own rules.

Current belief:  You are cheating if you don’t play by USGA rules.

  • - The USGA handicap system works for any rules, so as long as you use the same rules and equipment. If they indeed work, your handicap will  go down.
  • - People are cheating now anyway.
  • - Only penalty: You can’t play USGA tournaments by other rules than theirs.

AGA solution:  Play whatever rules and equipment you want. In order to compare scores, just do the same thing all the time. Your USGA handicap will adjust.

The pros can putt, and the rest of us can’t.

Current belief:  You need to practice and take lessons with your putter, or buy a new putter.

  • - Pro’s don’t miss-hit, you do.
  • - Putters lose up to 10% distance with 1/2 inch off center.
  • - Pros use "worst" putters because it’s like 2 or 3 putters for them (i.e., shorter putts with toe hit).

AGA solution:  Take putting lessons to learn how to hit consistently, or use a distance control putter (Edel Pixl).

Putting isn’t all about committing to the stroke.

Current belief:  There’s a battle between "my way is the best way" between arc and pendulum stroke proponents.

  • - PGA Pros have one argument, Dave Pelz another.
  • - Answer is both are right.

AGA solution:  Learn to use both swings, the arc for long putts and the pendulum for short.

Three putters are better than one.

Current belief:  You need all 13 clubs to get to the green.  If you have 2 or 3 putters, which clubs do you leave out?

  • - Stanford Engineering professors could not justify the logic of using 13 clubs to get to the green and only 1 for 40% of your shots.
  • - Players need different designs for long vs. short putts.

AGA solution:  Use three putters designed specifically for long, average and short putts, and combine with arc and pendulum strokes.  For example, low MOI-high COR for long putts.  High MOI-low COR for short putts.

Playability beats score.

Current belief:  Better score is the reason people work at and play the game.

  • - Scoring depends largely on the short game, not how you drive.
  • - Playability is about getting near the green in regulation.
  • - AGA rules/equipment are about playability

AGA solution:  Go for playability. Once you are around the green in regulation, you’ll now want to practice the short game to improve scoring.

Golf instruction doesn’t work.

Current belief:  Golfers should take more lessons from club pros, but don’t.

  • - Handicaps haven’t changed much in 30 years, in spite of major equipment innovations.
  • - Being a club "pro" does not a teacher make.

AGA solution:  

 New technology allows on-course play/video/remote instruction.

It’s the golf courses who are left holding the bag in the decline of golf.

Current belief:  This is just a normal cyclical downturn, and golf will return to long-term growth.

  • - Less than 1,000 people make 90% of the money in golf.
  • - There’s an inner group (USGA, PGAA, PGA Tour) that’s tied to TV money.
  • - Course owners have the biggest stake but no "take."
  • - Muni’s are in real trouble, they just don’t realize it yet.
  • - Sitting on valuable land subsidizing few players.

AGA solution:  AGA can do for golf what snowboards did for skiing.

Are slow play, cost, time, rules and social dogma to blame?

Current belief:  There are many. Everyone has their own peeve.

  • - Slow play is always one of the top complaints.
  • - Speed golf has been tried and gotten no traction.
  • - Speed is not absolute, it is relative: Everyone wants everyone else to "play at my speed."
  • - Courses can manage slow play if it were really a problem (stepped tee times, gps routing of holes to play, faster is first off, incentives).
  • - Take a cart, play faster and use the extra hour to go on a treadmill.
  • - $50/round is only $12/hour, below the cost of a babysitter in California.
  • - People already dress as they want, use cell phones, talk in backswings.

AGA solution:  Play AGA rules and equipment. Or just relax and play less, using your time for more productive and fun activities. That’s what most of the 20 million "lapsed" golfers are doing already.