New Rules of Golf – A Manager’s View

The implementation of the New Rules, on January 1st, following the Rules Modernisation by the R&A and USGA is fast approaching, but, in no particular order, what do you as managers and committees need to do now?

You need to review your Local Rules and be aware that there are a number of changes, particularly in the nomenclature, that will affect them. The Committee Procedures section of the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf detail these changes and there are examples of Model Local Rules on the R&A’s website. Remember that only those local rules that are pertinent to your course, and not covered by the Rules of Golf, should be published on the card. Also, there is no urgency required in printing new cards as any changes could be covered by an addendum slip until current card stocks are depleted.
You will need to decide if you are going to implement a Local Rule as an ‘Alternative to Stroke and Distance for a Ball That is Lost or Out of Bounds’ and the information on that can be found in the R&A’s Stroke and Distance Draft Local Rule.

Decisions will also need be made regarding Penalty Areas and which of these now need to be marked in red instead of yellow. See: – Whether to Mark a Penalty Area as Red or Yellow. You may also like to consider the introduction of new Penalty Areas or even the reclassifying of Internal Out Of Bounds to a Penalty Area.

Prior to this, it is strongly recommended that you attend one of the New Rules of Golf Workshops being run by the Governing Bodies of England or Wales.

The R&A have been asked whether golf clubs can introduce the new Rules early, allowing clubs and members to familiarise themselves before 2019, however they say that the current set of Rules should still be used until then as they will be encouraging all groups and individuals to learn about the new Rules towards the end of this year.

The R&A has a FAQ section which may also help and you can also read the Explanations for the major changes.

Finally, for those of you interested in some of the changes that were considered but not introduced along with further background material can be found here.

The main Rules changes are: –

  • Dropping procedure: When taking relief (from an abnormal course condition or penalty area, for example), golfers will now drop from knee height. This will ensure consistency and simplicity in the dropping process while also preserving the randomness of the drop. (Key change: the proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested dropping from any height).
  • Measuring in taking relief: The golfer’s relief area will be measured by using the longest club in his/her bag (other than a putter) to measure one club-length or two club-lengths, depending on the situation, providing a consistent process for golfers to establish his/her relief area. (Key change: the proposed Rules released in 2017 suggested a 20-inch or 80-inch standard measurement).
  • Removing the penalty for a double hit:  The penalty stroke for accidentally striking the ball more than once in the course of a stroke has been removed. Golfers will simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball.  (Key change: the proposed Rules released in 2017 included the existing one-stroke penalty).
  • Balls Lost or Out of Bounds: Alternative to Stroke and Distance:  A new Local Rule will now be available in January 2019, permitting committees to allow golfers the option to drop the ball in the vicinity of where the ball is lost or out of bounds (including the nearest fairway area), under a two-stroke penalty. It addresses concerns raised at the club level about the negative impact on pace of play when a player is required to go back under stroke and distance. The Local Rule is not intended for higher levels of play, such as professional or elite level competitions. (Key change:  this is a new addition to support pace of play)
  • 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.

By Marie J. Taylor

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