Old Game, New Rules, Time for Change

The USGA and the R&A have unveiled a preview of proposed new Rules of Golf, as part of a joint initiative to modernize the Rules and make them easier to understand and apply. Louie Chan talks to Roy Lee on the changes and impacts

Rickie Fowler gets a ruling from PGA rules official during The Honda Classic

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.

The online release of the preview begins a six-month feedback and evaluation period during which all golfers worldwide can learn about the proposed changes and provide input before they are finalized in 2018 and take effect January 1, 2019. Golfers are encouraged to review the proposed changes and submit feedback online via worldwide survey technology that can be accessed at www.randa.org or www.usga.org/rules from now until August 31, 2017. 

The feedback will be reviewed by the USGA and The R&A in establishing the approved final version of golf’s new Rules. These are due to be released in mid-2018 ahead of a January 1, 2019 implementation. Social media fans can also follow the discussion using #GolfRules2019.

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