Today, dozens of new rules come into force in the biggest revamp of golf regulations in decades, even if at the recreational level it is more a case of catching up to what many casual players have been doing for years anyway.
Here are 10 of the most significant rule changes and the reasons behind them.
Old rule: Five-minute limit searching for lost ball.
New rule:Three-minute limit searching for lost ball.
Reason: To speed up play.
Old rule: Two-stroke penalty for grounding club, moving loose impediment or testing the condition in a water hazard (now penalty areas).
New rule: No penalty for any of these actions in penalty areas.
Reason: Old rule required complex set of exceptions, because a strict prohibition was never practical.
Old rule: Ball must be dropped from shoulder height when taking relief.
New rule: Drop ball from knee height.
Reason: New relief procedure requires ball to come to rest in the relief area. The lower drop will help speed up taking relief, because the ball will come to rest quicker.
Old rule: One-stroke penalty for accidentally moving your ball while searching for it, for example by treading on it or kicking it.
New rule: No penalty. Just replace ball in original position, including in a bad lie if that’s where it was estimated to have been before being moved.
Reason: No advantage is gained when accidentally moving your ball.
Old rule: Two-stroke penalty for removing loose impediments, such as stones and leaves, in bunker, as long as your ball does not move.
New rule: No penalty.
Reason: The challenge of playing from a bunker is playing out of sand. Loose impediments can now be removed anywhere on the course, simplifying what players need to know.
Old rule: One-stroke penalty for hitting your ball more than once during a stroke.
New rule: No penalty. Just count the one stroke and play on.
Reason: No advantage gained by hitting your ball twice.
Old rule: One-stroke penalty for accidentally moving your ball on the green.
New rule: No penalty. Just replace your ball in original spot.
Reason: No advantage is gained by accidentally moving your ball.
Old rule: Flagstick must be removed when putting from on the green
New rule: Putting permitted with flagstick in.
Reason: To speed up play.
Old rule: Electronic distance-measuring devices prohibited, unless local rule adopted to allow use.
New rule: Such devices allowed, unless local rule adopted to prohibit use.
Reason: Inclusivity. Almost all courses already allow them by local rule.
Old rule: Free relief when ball embeds in areas cut to fairway height or less, unless local rule adopted to all relief anywhere expect water hazards (now penalty areas) and sand.
New rule: Free relief anywhere except in penalty areas and sand, unless local rule adopted to limit relief only to areas cut to fairway height or less.
Reason: Inclusivity. Almost all courses already allow relief anywhere except water hazards and sand.
All of these recommendations make sense, because for too long we have seen silly rules determine the outcome of tournaments. For example, who can forget Dustin Johnson’s famous incident in the final round of the 2010 USPGA Championship denying him a place in the subsequent playoff? In my opinion, if there is no advantage gained, then, there should be no penalty associated with the action.
Of crucial importance is the fact that none of these proposals compromise the integrity of the game. The very opposite in fact. They do help to simplify a technically difficult game and, by doing so, they will perhaps achieve their most important ambition: That being to encourage more people to try out or participate into a lifelong pastime.