The Gimme and Lessons from History

A New Gimme Rule Answers Old Prayers and Teaches about Old Plagues

Since childhood, those of us who freak out over a three-footer or less have a new champion in the USGA. The most powerful body in western golf has always maintained its rigidity toward changing the game, to the consternation of modern thinkers. However, in the face of our present crisis, the pedantry of golf history is thawing out. Rules have come out about not having to touch flagsticks, bunker rakes and cup liners. Today, another round of rules has come out, the most noteworthy surrounding the requirement of holing out, and what we’ve always called the ‘gimme.’

It’s a dream come true in one sense, at least for a little while. How many times have we played the hole as well as we could possibly play it, then missed a character-builder to blow what could have been a ‘run home and tell your family’ score? The ‘gimme’ is defined as an “unmissable putt,” but we munis understand that no such thing really exists. Once in a while, we even see a pro prove it. So, the definition is adapted to whatever one’s playing partner is willing to concede. In some foursomes, the practice is liberal, and when money is involved, far less so. As of today, where the cup liner has been raised, if you can hit it, you have officially holed out. this means that you don’t have to lean against the flagstick and dig your hand down into the hole for retrieving the ball.

The beautiful part (or if you’re from a northeast city, “the beauty part”) of it is that the ball running over the hole from too much speed is gone. The lipped ball is gone. If you hear that little ‘tink,’ you have scored. If one is handicap obsessed, it all counts.  Now is your chance to improve your game to justify your new handicap, or watch it slide back down after the coronavirus recedes.

In short, courses and overseeing organizations are doing everything they can to make the game as safe as possible without having to give it up. The gimme is only a small part of it. There’s wisdom in loosening the way the game is played, and we have a lot of history to consult. Looking back to the flu epidemic of 1918, we can trace what probably would have happened if the professional tour tried to survive such a wave of disease.

There was no Masters at Augusta in 1918, but if there had been, that great week in the spring would have been swimming in a melee of thousands of cases, and untold fatalities. Fort Gordon sat nearby the present course, and the soldiers themselves suffered 2,000 cases before the virus was turned loose on the civilian population, all the way to Atlanta. It killed enormous numbers of South Carolinians, and North Carolina’s Pinehurst would have been ground zero for 13,000 lost souls. And so it goes for the rest of the country, all the way to Pebble Beach.

The logic still holds that the wide open spaces of a golf course should allow the game to continue if our strategy is a smart one. Of course, it wasn’t about anything as small as the gimme back then. The majors were cancelled because of the First World War, so it was a mess even before the returning soldiers brought the virus home, apparently from an avian source. By not flattening the curve and allowing the spike, death rates elevated from October to the following February.

We can, and will do better than that. In terms of golf, it will happen from observing a lot of little improvements in the way we touch the facilities, and the way the facilities touch us. While I’m waiting for perfection, the ‘gimme’ finally represents a little good news for temporary purposes.  For a few months, i’ll go for that “tink’ sound, and live without pushes or pulls that lip the edge.  After we’re done with that, I promise to return to our former rigidity, and take on the whole exercise with a gravity that the USGA says it deserves.

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