Golf will have new rules from the start of next year.
After a six year gestation period which has included ‘extensive review’ and consultation, golf’s world governing bodies, The R&A and USGA, have announced finalised changes due to take effect next January. Their aim is to simplify and help speed the pace of the game.
Most previously proposed rule changes have made it through to the final version although the ruling bodies say there are a number of important modifications. The most significant changes include:
Dropping procedure: Golfers will now be required to take drops from knee height – the proposed new rule had been to allow a drop from any height.
Measuring in taking relief: The relief area will be measured using the longest club (other than the putter) in the golfer’s bag – the proposed new rule had been to standardise the measurement on 20 or 80 inches.
Removing the penalty for a double hit: The penalty stroke for accidentally striking the ball more than once in the course of a stroke will be removed – the proposal had been to retain the existing one stroke penalty.
Balls lost or out of bounds: Clubs will be permitted to introduce a local rule allowing golfers the option of accepting a two stroke penalty and dropping the ball in the vicinity of where the ball has been lost or has landed out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area). The R&A says the rule is not intended for higher levels of play, such as professional or elite level competitions.
Major proposals introduced in 2017 that have been incorporated into the modernised rules include:
Removal 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’): In addition to water, red and yellow-marked penalty areas may cover areas of desert, jungle, lava rock, and the like. There may be 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) has been kept to preserve the challenge of playing from the sand. However, an extra relief option has been added for an unplayable ball, 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. Announcement procedures when lifting a ball to identify it or to see if it is damaged are to be eliminated.
Pace-of-play support: Time allowed for searching for a lost ball is to be reduced from five minutes to three minutes. Other changes intended to help speed the pace of play will include a ‘recommendation’ that players take no more than 40 seconds to play a stroke.
The rules will be included in publications planned for September. In the meantime they can be viewed on The R&A website, www.randa.org.
The current, 2016, edition of the Rules of Golf remain in force for the whole of 2018.
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