Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Play Your Best -

what be­gan in 2012 with small dis­cus­sions from key mem­bers of golf’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies about what to do with a set of rules that many be­lieved was un­wieldy, un­de­sir­able and often un­in­tel­li­gi­ble, has evolved into a large-scale at­tempt to re­vise the way the game is played. ▶The most likely sce­nario is this: Start­ing in 2019, The Rules of Golf, jointly au­thored by the Royal and An­cient Golf Club of St An­drews and the United States Golf As­so­ci­a­tion, and used by mil­lions of golfers world­wide, will look very dif­fer­ent than it does now. ▶“There was a recog­ni­tion to take a new look at it, to put every­thing on the ta­ble and do some­thing good for the game,” says John Bo­den­hamer, se­nior man­ag­ing direc­tor, cham­pi­onships and gov­er­nance for the USGA. “We’re very happy with what we’ve come up with and are ex­cited to see how golfers of all lev­els feel about what we’re propos­ing.”

Be­fore any rule is changed, you’ll have sev­eral months to re­view the pro­posed changes and sub­mit feed­back on­line to The R&A via world­wide sur­vey tech­nol­ogy that can be ac­cessed at, or you can email the USGA at and of­fer your opin­ion. Once that com­ment pe­riod is com­plete on Au­gust 31, rules-mak­ers say they will re­view the feed­back, fi­nalise a new set of pro­ce­dures and penal­ties and an­nounce them early in 2018, to be put in play for 2019.

There are cur­rently 34 rules in The Rules of Golf.The pro­posal calls for an eas­ier-to-un­der­stand book of 24. Of­fi­cials want to con­sol­i­date many of the rules sec­tions. Ex­am­ples: The terms “ab­nor­mal ground con­di­tions” and “ob­struc­tions” would be merged to cre­ate “ab­nor­mal course con­di­tions.” “Loose im­ped­i­ments” and “mov­able ob­struc­tions” would be un­der a sin­gle rule. Of­fi­cials also would like to take the rules re­lated to the com­mit­tee out of the book and put them in a sep­a­rate pro­ce­du­ral doc­u­ment.

The R&A and USGA are also propos­ing to pub­lish a shorter ver­sion of the rules called the Player’s Edi­tion, a ref­er­ence guide to the most com­mon rules sit­u­a­tions en­coun­tered dur­ing a round. It will be writ­ten in lan­guage more recog­nised by golfers world­wide in­stead of the le­galese in the cur­rent book.

If you’re won­der­ing what be­comes of the 550-page De­ci­sions on the Rules of Golf, it would be known as The Hand­book.

“The guid­ing prin­ci­ple for every­thing we pro­pose is that it should be eas­ier to un­der­stand and put in play,” Bo­den­hamer says. He adds that USGA em­ploy­ees have been test­ing the pro­pos­als dur­ing ca­sual rounds, and the re­sults have been pos­i­tive – es­pe­cially in speed­ing up play. One pro­posed rule change calls for a re­duc­tion in the time you can search for a lost ball from five min­utes to three.The rules-mak­ers also want to sim­plify drop­ping when tak­ing re­lief (but still re­tain its ran­dom­ness) by al­low­ing golfers to drop from any height.The rec­om­men­da­tion is that the ball should be dropped at least an inch above the ground, the grass or any­thing grow­ing, they say.

Other pro­posed changes call for do­ing away with hav­ing to re­move a flag­stick be­fore putting, and a sug­gested time for mak­ing a stroke (less than 40 sec­onds). G olfers also would no longer be pe­nalised if they ac­ci­den­tally caused a ball or ball marker to move on the putting green, or if they want to re­move loose im­ped­i­ments in a haz­ard (to be called a “penalty area”).There def­i­nitely is a com­mon-sense ap­proach to the changes, Bo­den­hamer says.

So what’s miss­ing from the pro­posal? If you’d like to see the stroke-and-dis­tance penal­ties for los­ing a ball or hit­ting it outof-bounds go away, the rules-mak­ers are “not there yet,” Bo­den­hamer says.They could treat an out-of-bounds sit­u­a­tion the same as if you hit into a lat­eral wa­ter haz­ard, mean­ing you wouldn’t have to re­turn to the pre­vi­ous spot to play your next shot. But the USGA couldn’t come up with a sen­si­ble way to han­dle lost-ball sit­u­a­tions. “Where do you drop when that hap­pens?” Bo­den­hamer says.

That be­ing said, the de­ci­sion by the rules-mak­ers to leave stroke-and-dis­tance penal­ties in the book is not fi­nal.“We’re not de­cree­ing it from on high,” he says. “We’re re­ally cu­ri­ous to hear what peo­ple think and of­fer as so­lu­tions for stroke-and­dis­tance.”

Another rule that prob­a­bly won’t change is re­lief from a divot hole. Jack Nick­laus fa­mously said div­ots should be treated as ground un­der re­pair, but the rules-mak­ers be­lieve play­ers en­counter good and bad breaks through­out a round, and this is one of those times when the golf gods de­cide.

One point of em­pha­sis in the pro­posed changes that might be agree­able to golfers on the pro­fes­sional tours is to limit the ef­fect of video re­view when de­ter­min­ing whether a penalty has oc­curred. Specif­i­cally,The R&A and USGA would like to give play­ers the ben­e­fit of the doubt when es­ti­mat­ing or mea­sur­ing, such as when es­ti­mat­ing where a ball last crossed into a penalty area or mea­sur­ing out a re­lief area. If the golfer did every­thing that could be rea­son­ably ex­pected to get the drop area cor­rect, he or she will not have that drop scru­ti­nised later by re­view­ing a video or some other ev­i­dence gath­ered af­ter the fact. “Peo­ple are im­per­fect, and there are times you can­not be pre­cise when mea­sur­ing,” says Craig Win­ter, direc­tor, rules of golf and am­a­teur sta­tus for the USGA.“We want there to be a built-in mar­gin of er­ror so the golfer is not pe­nalised when they thought they got it right.”

In a few cases, the changes might seem more strin­gent, but the in­tent is ac­tu­ally to avoid penalty en­trap­ments. For ex­am­ple, you can’t re­place a club that you dam­aged, and that could save you from be­ing dis­qual­i­fied.

Player in­tegrity is be­ing em­pha­sised in the pro­posal, Bo­den­hamer says.That in­cludes al­low­ing cour­ses and com­mit­tees to adopt stan­dards of player con­duct and put more obli­ga­tions on play­ers to mar­shall them­selves. Once the rules are fi­nalised in 2018, an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme will fa­mil­iarise of­fi­cials with the changes.“We’re still think­ing about how we’re go­ing to train the train­ers, so to speak,” he says. “The ed­u­ca­tion com­po­nent of this will be han­dled more in­ten­tion­ally than we’ve ever done.”

Here are the pro­posed changes:

the putting green I f you ac­ci­den­tally move your ball or ball marker on the putting green, there is no penalty. Just put it back. Cur­rently: It’s a one-stroke penalty if you do ei­ther (with ex­cep­tions).

If you lift and re­place your ball on the putting green and it moves, move it back to its orig­i­nal spot re­gard­less of whether the wind moved it, or there was no clear rea­son. Cur­rently: The ball is played from its new lo­ca­tion un­less you or an out­side agency moved it. Then it would be re­placed.

You can re­pair al­most any dam­age on the putting green, in­clud­ing spike marks and an­i­mal dam­age.You can­not re­pair nat­u­ral im­per­fec­tions. Cur­rently: You can only re­pair ball marks or old hole plugs.

As long as you don’t im­prove the con­di­tions for your stroke, you can touch the line of putt to in­di­cate a tar­get. Cur­rently: Touch­ing the line comes with a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two shots in stroke play.

You can leave an unat­tended flag­stick in the cup when your ball is on the putting green, and there is no penalty if your ball strikes it. Cur­rently: You lose the hole in match play or in­cur a two-shot penalty in stroke play if you strike the flag­stick with a stroke from the putting green. wa­ter haz­ards T he term “wa­ter haz­ard” is be­ing changed to “penalty area” and will con­sist of red- and yel­low-marked ar­eas. This could in­clude ad­di­tional ar­eas that don’t con­tain wa­ter, such as desert, jun­gle and lava rock. If your ball ends up in one of these ar­eas, a one-stroke penalty is ap­plied if you take re­lief. Cur­rently: Re­lief is al­lowed only from a wa­ter haz­ard (marked yel­low) or a lat­eral wa­ter haz­ard (marked red).

You can move loose im­ped­i­ments in penalty ar­eas, touch the ground with your hand or club, or ground your club with­out penalty. Cur­rently: If you did any of the pre­ced­ing, it’s a loss of hole (match play) or a two-shot penalty (stroke play).

Com­mit­tees are al­lowed to mark all penalty ar­eas as red so that lat­eral re­lief is al­ways al­lowed. How­ever, they can mark a penalty area yel­low (no lat­eral re­lief) when they be­lieve it’s ap­pro­pri­ate. Cur­rently: All wa­ter haz­ards have to be marked yel­low un­less it’s im­pos­si­ble or un­rea­son­able for you to drop be­hind the haz­ard. Then it can be marked red.

You can’t drop on the op­po­site side from where the ball last en­tered a penalty area marked red. Cur­rently: You can take re­lief on the op­po­site side of a lat­eral wa­ter haz­ard from where your ball last en­tered it. bunkers Y ou can touch and move a loose im­ped­i­ment in a bunker when your ball is in that bunker. Cur­rently: Penalty for do­ing so is loss of hole (match play) or two shots (stroke play).

You can touch the sand with your hand or club as long as you’re not test­ing the con­di­tions of the bunker, you’re not plac­ing the club right in front of or be­hind the ball, and you’re not mak­ing a prac­tice swing or back­swing. Cur­rently: With some ex­cep­tions, such as ac­ci­den­tally fall­ing when en­ter­ing the bunker, touch­ing the sand with a hand or club re­sults in loss of hole (match play) or a two-shot penalty (stroke play).

You can take a two-stroke penalty to ob­tain re­lief out­side a bunker on a line from the hole through where the ball was at rest in the sand. Cur­rently: The only penalty re­lief you can take out­side a bunker is to play from where your last stroke was made. ball at rest Y ou are con­sid­ered to have caused your ball to move only if it is vir­tu­ally cer­tain (at least 95 per­cent likely) that you were the cause. Cur­rently: You are con­sid­ered to have caused your ball to move if it is more likely than not (50.1 per­cent) that you were the cause. No mat­ter where you are on the course, there is no penalty if you ac­ci­den­tally move your ball while search­ing for it. Just re­place it. Cur­rently: There is a one-stroke penalty for ac­ci­den­tally mov­ing it.

If your ball is ly­ing off the putting green when it moves, and its orig­i­nal spot isn’t known, just re­place it on the es­ti­mated spot.An ex­am­ple: If your ball was buried in mat­ted-down grass, re­place it in the es­ti­mated spot, buried in mat­ted-down grass. Cur­rently: You would drop when you’re not sure of the lo­ca­tion. ball in mo­tion I f your ball ac­ci­den­tally strikes you, your cad­die, your op­po­nent or any equip­ment, there is no penalty. Play it as it lies. But you can’t de­lib­er­ately try to bounce a shot off your equip­ment. Cur­rently: Ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting your­self, your cad­die, the per­son at­tend­ing a flag­stick on the green – or an at­tended or re­moved flag­stick when mak­ing a stroke from the putting green – re­sults in a one- or twostroke penalty de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances.

tak­ing re­lief The only re­quire­ments when tak­ing a drop are to hold the ball above the ground with­out it touch­ing any ob­ject and en­sure it falls through the air be­fore com­ing to rest. Height is not a re­quire­ment. Cur­rently: You must stand and hold the ball at shoul­der height, with your arm ex­tended, be­fore drop­ping.

When a ball must be dropped, it has to be in a de­fined re­lief area. Cur­rently: You are some­times al­lowed to drop on or as near as pos­si­ble to a spot or a line. The pro­posed change would give you 51 cen­time­tres on ei­ther side of a line, and 51cm or 2.04 me­tres around a spot de­pend­ing on the type of drop.

A dropped ball must come to rest in the re­lief area where it was dropped or it must be dropped again. Cur­rently: The ball must be dropped again if it rolls to any of the nine spec­i­fied ar­eas in Rule 20-2c. An ex­am­ple: If it rolled more than two club-lengths from where the ball first struck the ground.

The re­lief area will be 2.04 me­tres from the ref­er­ence point (for drops next to a penalty area or for an un­playable lie) or 51cm (all other drops). The rec­om­men­da­tion is to mark the shaft of a club to as­sist in mea­sur­ing. Cur­rently: Drop ar­eas are mea­sured in club-lengths, and you can choose any club to mea­sure.

Your ball is lost if not found within three min­utes of search­ing. Cur­rently: Your ball is lost if not found within five min­utes.

You can sub­sti­tute a ball when tak­ing re­lief. Cur­rently: With a few ex­cep­tions, you have to con­tinue with your orig­i­nal ball when tak­ing free re­lief, though you can sub­sti­tute a ball when tak­ing a penalty re­lief.

You can take free re­lief for an em­bed­ded ball any­where in the gen­eral area (for­merly “through the green”) of the course ex­cept sand (un­less a Lo­cal Rule is en­acted to make free re­lief avail­able only for em­bed­ded balls in ar­eas cut to fair­way height or less). Cur­rently: Free re­lief is given only for balls em­bed­ded in closely mowed ar­eas (fair­way height or less) un­less a Lo­cal Rule is en­acted.

When es­ti­mat­ing or mea­sur­ing a spot, point, line, area or dis­tance un­der a rule, you won’t be sec­ond-guessed later us­ing ev­i­dence such as video re­view. This ap­plies as long as you use rea­son­able judg­ment and do all you can to make an ac­cu­rate mea­sure­ment. Cur­rently: Your judg­ment is given no par­tic­u­lar weight or def­er­ence, and the com­mit­tee de­cides any is­sue about the ac­cu­racy of es­ti­ma­tion based on a re­view of all facts. equip­ment Y ou may use dis­tance-mea­sur­ing de­vices such as laser range find­ers and GPS watches dur­ing a round un­less a Lo­cal Rule is adopted pro­hibit­ing their use. Cur­rently: A Lo­cal Rule has to be adopted al­low­ing their use.

You can use a club dam­aged dur­ing a round. Cur­rently: You may use a dam­aged club dur­ing a round only if the im­pair­ment hap­pened dur­ing the nor­mal course of play. If it were dam­aged in anger or for another rea­son, it can’t be used for the re­main­der of the round.

You can’t re­place a dam­aged club dur­ing a round un­less you were not re­spon­si­ble for its con­di­tion. Cur­rently: You can re­place a club if its dam­age oc­curred dur­ing the nor­mal course of play.

If you have a good rea­son for lift­ing a ball, such as to iden­tify it, check for dam­age or de­ter­mine if it lies in a con­di­tion where re­lief is per­mit­ted (such as check­ing to see if it’s em­bed­ded), you don’t have to an­nounce your in­ten­tion to another player or the marker.You also don’t have to give that per­son an op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve the process. Cur­rently: Be­fore lift­ing, you must an­nounce your in­ten­tion to another player or the marker and al­low that per­son to ob­serve the process.

A ball can­not be sub­sti­tuted dur­ing play of a hole be­cause it’s mis­shapen. Cur­rently: You can re­place a mis­shapen ball. cad­dies Y our cad­die can’t stand on a line be­hind you from the time you take your stance un­til the stroke is made. Cur­rently: A cad­die can’t stand on a line be­hind you while you’re mak­ing a stroke but can line you up while you ad­dress the ball.

Your cad­die can lift and re­place your ball on the putting green with­out spe­cific au­tho­ri­sa­tion from you. Cur­rently: It’s a one-stroke penalty for your cad­die to lift your ball with­out per­mis­sion. pace of play A new form of stroke play is recog­nised where your max­i­mum score for a hole is capped (such as a dou­ble or triple bo­gey). The com­mit­tee sets that max score. Cur­rently: You must hole out in stroke play un­less play­ing Stable­ford or Bo­gey for­mats.

Play­ers in stroke play are en­cour­aged to play “ready golf” when it can be done in a safe and re­spon­si­ble way, and op­po­nents in match play can agree to go out of turn to save time. Cur­rently: There is no penalty for play­ing out of turn, but in match play an op­po­nent can make you re­play a shot if you do so.

The rec­om­mended time to make a stroke is no more than 40 sec­onds, and

The Rules of Golf recog­nises you should nor­mally play more quickly than that. Cur­rently: No rec­om­men­da­tion is given. eti­quette Com­mit­tees can adopt codes of player con­duct and set penal­ties for breach of stan­dards in that code. Cur­rently: Com­mit­tees can dis­qual­ify you for se­ri­ous breaches of eti­quette but can­not im­pose lesser penal­ties. other rules of note Y ou have to de­clare you’re play­ing a pro­vi­sional ball be­fore mak­ing a stroke with it. But you can be­gin a search and still have the op­tion of play­ing a pro­vi­sional as long as you do so within three min­utes. Cur­rently: The mo­ment you go for­ward to search for your orig­i­nal ball, you can no longer play a pro­vi­sional.

You’re al­lowed to lis­ten to or watch sport­ing events, news broad­casts or mu­sic as “en­ter­tain­ment” dur­ing a round if it doesn’t give you an ad­van­tage when play­ing. It would be a penalty, for ex­am­ple, if you were lis­ten­ing be­cause it im­proves your rhythm or re­laxes you, but not if you wanted to share a new song you love with other mem­bers of your group. Cur­rently: With some ex­cep­tions, you can­not lis­ten to mu­sic or watch/lis­ten to sport­ing events and news dur­ing a round.

All holes cre­ated by an­i­mals will be treated as ab­nor­mal course con­di­tions. Cur­rently: Free re­lief is given only from a bur­row­ing an­i­mal hole.

Ev­ery one of God’s crea­tures has un­til the end of Au­gust to ob­ject.

If you want to give The R&A feed­back, you can do so on­line via world­wide sur­vey tech­nol­ogy that can be ac­cessed at

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