June 25, 1995

Since December 22, 1894, when the United States Golf Association
first ran up its flag to warn off foreign dandruff, the game has
evolved with a deliberateness bordering on timidity. Every
decade or so the rules are tweaked to eliminate some anachronism
(such as the stymie) or an undignified practice (Sam Snead
putting croquet style). But the game essentially conforms to the
13 rules set down by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
in 1744, which, in turn, were based on 400 years or so of
Scottish practice. A century, if you think about it, is barely
long enough to get turfgrass going.

In its next 100 years the USGA would be wise to continue its
incremental approach. The year 2000, for instance, would be the
perfect time to repeal the stroke-and-distance rule. This
penalty, which is both an anachronism and an indignity,
effectively charges two strokes for a 300-yard drive that strays
an inch out-of-bounds, while the 100-yard worm-burner into a
lateral water hazard gets off with one. If the Edinburgh golfers
had made such a rule, they would not be remembered as an
Honourable Company.

In 2010 the USGA might consider a ban on the practice of marking
yardages on sprinkler heads. Only a purist objects to 150-yard
posts or bushes -- or laser guns and satellites, for that matter
-- but it slows play to search for sprinkler heads, and
conversation suffers when you're counting steps backward from

Ten years on, when Tiger Woods is 44, the USGA should finally
permit the repairing of spike marks on greens -- preferably with
a 100-pound roller. And certainly, before mid-century, the men
and women in blue blazers should promulgate a set of rules for
long-driving contests and closest-to-the-hole charity

Some will object that these small changes will not sustain golf
through the 21st century, that the game faces challenges
unrelated to the rule book. The USGA, to its credit, recognizes
this. Its leaders concede that golf in the next millennium may
be less green (due to water limits and restrictions on turfgrass
chemicals), less white (due to increased interest among
minorities and lower tolerance for exclusive clubs), less male
(due to legal challenges and changing recreation patterns) and
yet somehow more expensive. This last trend, spurred by the
irreversible yoking of the game to the motorized golf cart,
could even choke off growth. "Virtual golf" might challenge the
outdoor variety and lead to an Honourable Company of Edinburgh
Cyberpunks. The Chip, so to speak, could replace the chip.

More likely, the game will flourish and wither by turns, as it
has these last 100 years. Golf courses by Donald Ross and A.W.
Tillinghast, one hates to remember, died of neglect during the
Great Depression. Today's resort courses, with their jade
fairways and sparkling waterfalls, could wind up weedy and
enclosed in barbed wire, like yesterday's amusement parks. What
are now urban slums, on the other hand, might turn into family
golf centers.

Will Shinnecock Hills survive? Probably. Only the grimmest
doomsdayer predicts a year 2095 with no U.S. Open. The game,
when the USGA's bicentennial is celebrated, will probably be
little changed from our quaint era of balata balls and titanium
shafts. Corey Pavin will seem to rub historical shoulders with
Old Tom Morris, and "You da man" will be as indecipherable as
the scratch marks on ancient scrolls. But a club length's relief
will still be provided when dropping from ground marked under

Incrementalism has its critics; so does the USGA, which has been
conservative and hidebound for most of its existence. But games,
to retain their charm, must evolve at a pace slower than the
societies they serve. My advice to the USGA embarking on its
second 100 years is simple: Stay the course.

B/W PHOTO:USGA By 2095, Old Tom Morris (above left, with son Tom Jr.) will seem to be rubbing shoulders with Pavin. [Tom Morris with son Tom Jr.] COLOR PHOTO:JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [see caption above--Corey Pavin walking with his caddie]