Changes to the rules of golf don't come often. But when they do, it's sure to create plenty of discussion. On Tuesday, as expected, the talk started as both the U.S. Golf Assn. and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club banned what is commonly referred to as belly putting, or anchoring a club against your body while making a stroke. The long club is not being outlawed, just that stroke. The ban takes effect in 2016.
"The traditional stroke involves swinging the club with both the club and the gripping hands held away from the body, requiring the player to direct and control the movement of the entire club," USGA President Glen Nager said in a statement. "Anchoring is ... a substantial departure from the traditional free swing."
Four of the last six major championship winners have used an anchored putting stroke, most recently Adam Scott at the Masters in April.
The PGA Tour hasn't announced if it will adopt this rule, but Commissioner Tim Finchem, while opposing the ban, has said that golf should be played with one set of rules.
But what does this do to the weekend golfer at the local course?
Pablo Serna, Hillcrest Country Club assistant golf operations manager, said that although the ruling affects USGA and Southern California Golf Assn. tournaments, it should not doom average golfers who anchor their putters.
"If we want to continue with the rules in general, then we are going to have to enforce it," Serna said. "But for the average Joe, I don't see it affecting him whatsoever."
Bob Cavanaugh, course manager at Rancho Park, said it would be difficult to enforce the ruling on what once was the busiest public course in the country.
"Just because someone makes a rule that doesn't allow it in USGA competition, that doesn't mean recreationally that's the case," he said. "We have 100,000 people play here annually and those players can use whatever they want as long as they don't damage the course."
However, Cavanaugh said the decision probably will cause golfers to ditch the putters entirely.
"We have a lot of players that use it here," Cavanaugh said. "But most players follow the pros and they buy the stuff that the pros they follow use. If the best players aren't going to be using them anymore, then I doubt our recreational golfers are."
At Plaza Golf at Pico and Sepulveda, employees placed the majority of long and belly putters on the clearance rack, some by as much as 60%. Lee Simpson, a salesman at Plaza Golf, said the store hasn't placed any new orders for the putters and sales have "virtually stopped."
"No one will spend $200 now for one of them, but they might try it out for $99," Simpson said. "But now that it's concrete, it will kill the sale of the putter entirely."
Simpson said many golfers use the long putter if they have chronic back pain, while others use it to cure the yips.
At Hillcrest, Serna said the long and belly putters started out as a fad in 2010, but sales are now about 5% of pro shop sales.
Craig Hill, a Rancho Park teaching pro, said golfers are only as good as their preparation and practice.
"Almost 40% or more of our total shots on a golf course are putts," Hill said. "That's the one club you are going to use on every hole. So you can't substitute a piece of equipment for spending some time on the putting green."