AFTER what has been termed an “exhaustive four year review” the world’s governing golf bodies have announced the rules of the game will remain largely unchanged.
That may sound like a huge anti-climax for some but for many will just reinforce the great game of golf’s rich and ongoing heritage.
There has been one significant change however, eliminating what was a very unfair penalty to a player whose ball moved on the putting green because of a wind gust or the like.
The key European and US governing bodies have also got their acts together to present a united and co-ordinated presentation of golf rules.
In the announcement today, The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA) said the publication of the new Rules of Golf for 2012-15 would be for the first time be designed, published and presented jointly.
The bodies said that following the exhaustive, four-year review of golf’s 34 playing Rules, nine principal Rules have been amended to improve clarity and ensure penalties are proportionate.
The significant changes include:
• Ball Moving After Address (Rule 18-2b). A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.
• Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions (Rule 13-4). Exception 2 to this Rule is amended to permit a player to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and Rule 13-2 (improving lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play) is not breached.
• Time of Starting (Rule 6-3a). The rule is amended to provide that the penalty for starting late, but within five minutes of the starting time, is reduced from disqualification to loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play. Previously this penalty reduction could be introduced as a condition of competition.
Commenting on the revisions The R&A’s Director of Rules and Equipment Standards David Rickman said: “The key point is that the Rules of Golf will remain fundamentally the same. We have undergone a pretty extensive review although what has come out of that has been relatively modest.
“The Rules of Golf are constantly evolving and our hope is that what we have produced for 2012 is clear, informed by common sense and reflective of the demands of the modern game.”
USGA Senior Director of Rules of Golf Thomas Pagel said: “We have produced a unified code of the Rules of Golf for 60 years and although the context has been the same, we often found the perception that there were different Rules in place depending upon where you were to play the game.
“Now the book will not only have the same content, but it will also be presented in a uniform fashion with similar formatting and covers; this will truly be a single code governing the Rules of the game that reflects the strong collaboration between The R&A and USGA.”
The most significant change (Rule 18-12b) will see an end to situations like the one witnessed during the final round of this year’s Open Championship when Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was penalised when his ball was moved on the 7th green by the wind after he had addressed it.
Padraig Harrington, three-time Major winner and R&A – Working for Golf Ambassador, said: “I am delighted with the changes, in particular the ball moving after address. Every time the wind blows I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt.
“This change will speed up play, there won’t be as many suspensions and players won’t be getting penalised or disqualified unfairly. It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break.”
There has been a unified code of golf since 1952 but until now The R&A and the USGA have published the same rules in separate editions, thereby giving the impression to some that the rules were different. However, this year sees identical publications with only some spellings and respective logos changing depending whether the edition serves the US and Mexico or the rest of the world.
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer welcomed the announcement of a jointly published edition of the Rules. He said: “What has happened with The R&A and the USGA is wonderful. In the years I have been associated with the game and got to know The R&A and what their efforts are and having lived with the USGA all my life, one of the things I have always thought is we should be closer together.”
The complete text of all changes to the Rules and video summaries of the changes can be found on the R&A website