In March, the R&A and the USGA proposed some major changes to the rules of golf, the biggest shake-up to how the game is played since 1984.
Golf ’s two main governing bodies, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association have proposed 30 major changes that they say will make the game quicker, more consistent and fairer. The new rules will take on a simpler format that is easier to understand and apply. It’s hoped the changes will help to restore the spirit of the game and players’ integrity but still provide consequences for infractions.
The current Rules of Golf span more than 200 pages divided into regulations and Sub-Rules, and also includes 1200 decisions totaling more than 500 pages. The existing rules are complicated and complex, something which Eddy Juniyasa Made Putra, Head of Rules of the Indonesian Golf Association acknowledges: “The answer to the case is often hard to find because it can be in Definitions, Notes, Exceptions, Appendix or in Decisions.
Referees senior or observers of rules often have difficulty in making decisions.”
It’s this complexity that has encouraged players to start abandoning the rules in favor of making their own with their playing partners.
“There are concerns that the game of golf has started coming out of the corridor of Rules,” said Eddy. “There is also an impression that the Rules of Golf are reserved only for the game at the elite level. In fact, golf players outside the elite level are more numerous. The Rules should set the game in general.” According to Eddy, the changes cover a variety of issues from grounding a club in a penalty area, to determining if a ball moved, to repairing damage on greens, to relaxing dropping procedures. “Besides that, there are other changes such as terminology and the format of presentation. The terminologies which have changed among others are ‘through the green’ has been changed into ‘general area,’ the term ‘hazard’ is removed, ‘penalty area’ replaces ‘water hazard,’ and others,” explained Eddy.
The changes have been formulated through a series of Rule Board meetings between the R&A and USGA since 2012.
“Each Rule Board has its own committee who met three times a year. Then, there is the Joint Rules Committee, who met four times a year. The Committee consists of people who are considered to represent the interests of the worldwide golf community.” outlined Eddy, who is also an R&A Rules Committee Member representing Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, and proposed the penalty area change.
The new rules were unveiled for consideration on March 1st with implementation set for the start of 2019. The committee is welcoming the golfing communities input on the proposed changes until the end of August 2017. “At the end of 2017 until early 2018, the committee will review all the feedback. In mid-2018, the rule changes will be finalized and announced, so it gives enough time for golf organizations of each country to do the translation and the education of the rules,” stated Eddy.
SOME OF THE BIG CHANGES
Instead of dropping a ball at shoulder height, players can drop the ball at any height.
Caddies cannot stand behind a player and help with alignment while the player takes a stance.
A player won’t be penalized if his ball accidentally deflects off him, his caddy, or equipment.
The search time for lost balls is reduced to three minutes rather than five.
Players can move loose impediments in a bunker. There still is a penalty if a player (a) touches the sand to test the surface, or (b) touches the sand when making a backswing.
Damaged clubs can be used in competition, even if the equipment was damaged not through normal use.
Players are entitled to free relief from an embedded ball in general area (new term for through the green) unless limited to the fairway by a local rule.
Rangefinders can be used to measure distances, except when prohibited by a local rule.
Committees are encouraged to mark penalty area (a new term overriding water hazard) with red stakes, not yellow, to allow lateral relief.
In an attempt to improve pace of play at the recreational level, the governing bodies are encouraging “ready golf ” which allows putts to be holed with the flagstick in and recommends an alternative form of stroke play with a maximum score.
HOW THE RULES CHANGED OVER TIME
Since being written in 1744, the Rules of Golf have undergone some fundamental changes:
The R&A established its Rules of Golf Committee, leading to the first-ever consolidated rules.
A major revision to the R&A and USGA codes. The Rules of Golf were reorganized and rewritten to clarify the meaning of the rules and the definitional elements of the game.
The R&A and USGA worked cooperatively to produce a universal set of rules.
The Rules of Golf were reorganized to make them more logical and intuitive.