Finally, no USGA Punishment for the Innocent 0 9

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.)  Feb. 6, 2012 — The USGA has listened to what golfers have been saying for years – that there were some pretty goofy rules that did little except slow the pace of play and punish the innocent.

Among the biggest changes for the 2012-2015 edition of the Rules of Golf is that a golfer is no longer penalized if the wind moves his ball before he makes a stroke.

The USGA and the Royal & Ancient Club in the United Kingdom – which jointly administer the Rules of Golf for every golfer in the world (except, maybe, those in North Korea) – now agree a player is “exonerated” if the wind or a blown leaf or twig moves his ball after the club has been grounded.

If you play in spring tournaments, you know what I mean. With the wind howling in their ears, competitors set up over a shot, typically a putt on the green, hover the club in the air, then spend a minute or more backing off and glaring suspiciously at their ball, as if it were bent on ratting them out to the IRS.

Under the old rule, if the player grounded his club and the ball moved, even one dimple’s worth, the player was presumed guilty of a penalty, a golf version of Hosea’s “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”The USGA’s version went something like, “If you’re crazy enough to play in a sustained 35-mile-an-hour wind, you deserve what you get.”

Under the 2012 rule change, if the ball moves “when it is known or virtually certain” the player did not cause it to move, there is no penalty. The ball is played from wherever it ends up being blown. Hooray for common sense. Hooray for speeding up play on a breezy day.

Another 2012 rule change allows a player to rake or tidy up a bunker or other hazard before hitting a shot, provided the raking or tidying doesn’t improve the player’s lie, area of intended stance or swing.

Previously, you couldn’t touch the sand, soil, rocks or mud in any hazard with anything but your feet before making a stroke. This, too, speeds up play and eliminates a penalty for someone who simply is trying to be courteous or who maybe suffers from severe OCD.

Oddly, I am reminded right this minute of the day I waded into the muck to attempt to play my ball in a tidal marsh. First my FootJoys, then my cuffs, then my pant legs, calves and wedge/walking stick slowly sunk into the ooze.

After doing a fair imitation of a wooly mammoth trapped in the LaBrea Tar Pits and making a Ross Perot-like giant sucking sound as one foot broke free, I found I’d lost a golf shoe.

It’s good to know that this year, the USGA says I am free to repeat that performance penalty-free.

 — Dan Vukelich

In other news:

Sandia Golf Club made Golfweek’s Best Courses ranking in two categories, Resort courses and Casino courses, coming in No. 100 and No. 19 respectively.

“Sandia Golf Club is a special place with a host of spectacular amenities for golfers to enjoy,” said Matt Molloy, General Manager of Sandia Golf Club. “It’s very satisfying to have a prestigious publication like Golfweek recognize this by including the club in a ranking filled with the golf industry’s best facilities.”

If chain-smoking Spencer Lvein had hung on to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open, we might have been tempted to nickname him “Lumpy Light” after another cig-sucking former Lobo golfer, Tim Harron. Alas, that will have to wait.

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Sierra Del Rio to Shutter for Two Months 0 30

Sierra del Rio Golf Course

Sierra Del Rio Golf Course, which restricted play in December to Thursday through Sunday only, will close for two months after the New Year.

The temporary closure of the 18-hole Elephant Butte golf course was announced in an email Sunday. The golf course’s food and beverage operation, also will close. Plans are to reopen on March 1, the course said.

“The course is in reasonably good condition but we want it to be in the best shape possible when we reopen,” a golf shop employee said Sunday. Maintenance crews will devote the downtime to earth and drainage work to repair damage to native areas off the playing surfaces caused by heavy rains in September, the employee said.

Sierra Del Rio, a Richard Phelps design, is the centerpiece of a retirement- and second-home community near the Rio Grande in Southern New Mexico. Its director of golf is Guy Wimberly, who retired to Elephant Butte after decades running Arroyo Del Oso Golf Course in Albuquerque. Wimberly had no comment on the closure on Sunday.

Sierra Del Rio reduced playing days earlier this month. Winter is typically playable in Southern New Mexico, where daily highs reach into the 50s and 60s.

Sierra Del Rio is part of the Turtleback Mountain Resort. It opened in 2007 on the footprint of the old Oasis Golf Resort and is the nearest golf course to Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic plans to fly tourists to the edge of space.

The renovated course and new homes built near it provided a boost to the local economy, but homebuilding and rounds played suffered following the 2008 housing collapse.

Dan Vukelich is editor of Reach him at