What you need to know about the proposed Rules of Golf changes by the USGA and R&A
By Jon Levy
You’ve likely heard by now that golf’s two biggest governing bodies – the USGA and R&A – have released a series of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf.
The recent announcement has made waves like nothing by these organizations in years, as it comes as the biggest set of changes to the Rules of Golf since perhaps, well, ever.
— USGA (@USGA) March 3, 2017
A collective call to action from the USGA and R&A to “modernize” the game, the proposed rule changes are an obvious reaction to appease golf’s needed shot in the arm for continued growth and a healthy future.
Highlights include being able to putt with the flagstick in, tapping down spike marks on the green and reducing the time you’re allowed to look for a lost ball from five minutes to three. But so you fully know what lies ahead, here’s the full overview of the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf:
Proposed Rules of Golf Changes Guide
*Released with an accompanying six-month “feedback and evaluation period,” the proposed changes will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2019.
*The current Rules of Golf book, which has a total of 34 rules, will be shortened to 24. The revised version also includes wording that is shorter and easier to digest.
Ball at Rest
- Ball moved during search: No penalty for accidentally moving your ball
- Ball moved on the putting green: No penalty for accidentally moving your ball or ball marker
- Deciding why a ball moved: A new standard to determine if you caused your ball to move
- Replacing ball when original spot is not known: Now placed rather than dropped
Ball in Motion
- Ball in motion accidentally deflected: No penalty if deflected by you, your equipment or your caddie
- Fixed distances used for measuring relief areas: Now either 20 or 80 inches, instead of measuring by club lengths
- Measuring relief area where a ball is dropped and played: Ball now must come to rest within the fixed 20/80-inch areas, instead of additional distance given outside drop area
- Dropping: Ball can now be dropped from any distance above the ground, instead of shoulder height
- Where a dropped ball comes to rest: Must only come to rest within the relief area; now in play even if it hits a person or object before coming to rest
- Time allotted for ball search: Shortened to three minutes from five
- Substitution of ball when taking relief: Now always allowed
- Embedded ball: Relief allowed without penalty anywhere in the “general area” (new term for “through the green”)
Areas of the Course
- Putting green
- Replacing a ball moved: Now always replaced on original spot, even if moved from wind or no clear reason, which could previously deem it to be played from its new spot
- Repairing damage: Can now repair almost any damage to the putting surface (including spike marks and animal damage)
- Touching line of play: No penalty, as long as doing so does not improve the conditions for the stroke
- Ball played hits unattended flagstick in hole: No longer a penalty
- Penalty areas: Areas such as jungle and lava rock, etc., in addition to other areas of water, may now be marked as Red of Yellow penalty areas. Note: The term “hazard” will also be replaced in all instances by “penalty area”
- Touching or moving loose impediments or touching ground in a penalty area: No longer a penalty
- Use of clubs damaged during a round: Now allowed, regardless if damaged during a stroke played or other reasons (like anger)
- Adding clubs to replace a club damaged during round: No longer allowed if you are responsible for the damage
- Use of distance-measuring devices: Now allowed, unless a local rule has been adopted to prohibit
Playing a Ball
- Caddie standing behind player to help alignment: No longer allowed while the player is setting up to a shot
- Caddie lifting ball on the putting green: Now allowed to lift and replace a player’s ball without specific authorization to do so
When to Play During a Round
- Pace of play: “Ready golf” encouraged, as well as playing each stroke in no more than 40 seconds
- Maximum score form of stroke play: A new “maximum score” form recognized, capping a player’s max score or a hole
- Expected standards of player conduct: New rules speaking to the high standards of conduct expected
- Code of player conduct: Committees given authority to adopt their own code of player conduct, with set penalties for breaches
- Intent to lift a ball: No longer required to announce intention to mark and lift a ball (when a ball may be lifted and replaced or played from a different area)
- Judgement in estimating and measuring: A player’s reasonable judgement will not be second-guessed based on later evidence
What the proposed Rules of Golf changes mean for you
Probably not much, to be honest. Most of us who play golf casually already employ some version of the Rules of Golf that’s different than the current set.
Think about it: When was the last instance you timed Bob’s search for a lost tee shot during your Saturday game? Questioned Alice for dropping from waist height, instead of shoulder height? Penalized Steve for using that slightly bent 7-iron he altered during an “unhappy” moment earlier in the round?
These questions, of course, may not apply for serious golfers, gamblers, tournament players and general sticks-in-the-mud. But, for the vast majority of golfers playing casually, the proposed Rules of Golf changes likely more closely parallel how many are already playing the game.
That is the point, after all.
The USGA and R&A started focusing on this proposed rules overhaul in 2012 because their bottom line is to ensure the game’s survival, and they knew they needed to get with the times. Hence, the unveiling of their rules-of-the-future answer with this enormous paradigm shift.
That said, many would agree all that really matters is you have fun while you play. So then do the proposed changes hit the mark for golfers of all types to have fun AND follow the rules of the game closely?
Of course that’s TBD, but on the hunch the USGA and R&A have done their job correctly … absolutely.