Radical overhaul of rules of golf proposed to modernise the game

THE R&A and USGA have announced what amounts to the biggest overhaul of the rules of golf in more than 30 years.

A comprehensive set of new rule proposals released this week are aimed at modernising the game of golf, speeding up play, and generally making things more fun.

The R&A and the USGA say the joint initiative, which will reduce the number of rules from 34 to 24, aims to make the rules easier to understand and apply.

Golfers get their say

The online release of proposed rule changes will begin a six-month feedback and evaluation period during which all golfers worldwide can learn about the intended changes and provide input before they are finalised in 2018 and take effect on 1 January 2019.

Rules review

The announcement follows a comprehensive review process that began in 2012 with a working group of key R&A and USGA Rules administrators, professional tour officials and other Rules experts.

While the Rules are revised every four years, this is the first fundamental review since 1984.

“Our aim is to make the Rules easier to understand and to apply for all golfers,” David Rickman, Executive Director – Governance at The R&A, said.

“We have looked at every Rule to try to find ways to make them more intuitive and straightforward and we believe we have identified many significant improvements.

“It is important that the Rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character.”

Thomas Pagel, Senior Director of Rules & Amateur Status for the USGA, added: “We are excited and encouraged by the potential this work brings, both through the proposed new Rules and the opportunities to use technology to deliver them. We look forward to an ongoing conversation with golfers during the feedback period in the months ahead.”

Proposed new Rules of Golf

The proposed 24 new Rules, reduced from the current 34, have been written in a user-friendly style with shorter sentences, commonly used phrases, bulleted lists and explanatory headings. The initiative also focuses on assessing the overall consistency, simplicity and fairness of the Rules for play.

The Rules are currently delivered in more than 30 languages, and the proposed wording will support easier translation worldwide. When adopted, the Rules will be supported by technology that allows the use of images, videos and graphics.

Highlights of the proposed Rule changes

  • Elimination or reduction of “ball moved” penalties: There will be no penalty for accidentally moving a ball on the putting green or in searching for a ball; and a player is not responsible for causing a ball to move unless it is “virtually certain” that he or she did so.
  • Relaxed putting green rules: There will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits an unattended flagstick in the hole; players may putt without having the flagstick attended or removed. Players may repair spike marks and other damage made by shoes, animal damage and other damage on the putting green and there is no penalty for merely touching the line of putt.
  • Relaxed rules for “penalty areas” (currently called “water hazards”): Red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, etc., in addition to areas of water; expanded use of red penalty areas where lateral relief is allowed; and there will be no penalty for moving loose impediments or touching the ground or water in a penalty area.
  • Relaxed bunker rules: There will be no penalty for moving loose impediments in a bunker or for generally touching the sand with a hand or club. A limited set of restrictions (such as not grounding the club right next to the ball) is kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand; however, an extra relief option is added for an unplayable ball in a bunker, allowing the ball to be played from outside the bunker with a two-stroke penalty.
  • Relying on player integrity: A player’s “reasonable judgment” when estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance will be upheld, even if video evidence later shows it to be wrong; and elimination of announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged.
  • Pace-of-play support: Reduced time for searching for a lost ball (from five minutes to three); affirmative encouragement of “ready golf” in stroke play; recommending that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke and other changes intended to help with pace of play.
  • Simplified way of taking relief: A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific relief area; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from just above the ground or any growing thing or other object on the ground.

More to come

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About Brian O'Hare

Brian is the editor and founder of ASG. He is a former Sydney journalist and is now an avid "senior" golfer. Brian is a member of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

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