Yesterday’s joint announcement by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) and the US Golf Association (USGA) of a period of consultation regarding proposed changes to the Rules of Golf - which they hope will come into effect from January 1st 2019 – is a victory for common sense as much as the realisation that something had to be done to simplify what is readily perceived as being an overly complicated sport.
In an era of change for the golf industry, most especially the declining membership and participation numbers in the more established golfing nations like the US and the UK, it seems that golf can no longer rely on its age old traditions “as a badge of honor” for survival, and just as Muirfield’s future status as an Open Championship course has forever been indelibly linked to their policy on female membership – it seems only fitting that the R&A and the USGA have now finally aquiesed to their most comprehensive overhaul of their rule book since they were first published in 1744.
The devil they say is in the detail, but already they are onto a winner by proposing that, if accepted, the number of Rules in the game will shrink from 34 to 24. So, let’s look at a little more detail.
From a playing perspective, the most notable, common sensical improvements for which there proposed to be —
- Your ball in motion accidentally hitting you, your caddy or your equipment.
- Your ball accidentally moving on the green.
- Your club accidentally touching the ground while in a hazard
- Relief from an embedded ball anywhere (except in a sand bunker)
- Repairing damage (including spike marks, etc) on the putting green.
- Players can touch the line of their putts – as long as they do not improve the condition of the putt.
- Moving loose impediments from sand bunkers (includes things like leaves, twigs etc).
For me, all of these recommendations are good because for too long now and especially in recent years, we have seen silly rules determine the outcome of the tournament.
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.
- There are some good proposals, which if properly enforced by clubs and players alike, would greatly enhance the pace (speed) of play – which is a good thing. For example...
- Recommendation that it takes 40 seconds to hit a shot – Currently there are no recommendations
- Lost Ball – 3 minutes to look for ball as opposed to the current 5 allotted.
- Players can hit shots when they are ready
- Players can putt with the pin unattended while on the putting green. They can also strike an unattended pin while on the putting green without incurring a penalty - This one is a little controversial, but it will certainly improve the pace of play.
- Dropping a Ball – Currently the rule is from shoulder height. Going forward, it is from any height as long as you are above the ground and your hand doesn’t touch any growing thing or object.
Your caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you from the time you begin taking your stance until after you have made your stroke. This is a good ruling. It speeds up play and it also makes the player more responsible for the execution of their shot
- A player may continue to use a damaged club, even if the player damaged it in anger.
In all the R&A and the USGA have proposed more than 100 changes to the Rules of Golf, and while some are destined to fall by the way-side over the trial period, I applaud their ambition to modernize and simplify the game of golf for everyone, regardless of their age or ability.
Of crucial importance is the fact that none of these proposals compromise the integrity of the game.
The very opposite in fact is the case.
They do help to simplify what is 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 in what could be a lifelong pastime.