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Proposed golf rule changes aim to speed up play and simplify the game

Proposed golf rule changes aim to speed up play and simplify the game
March 2, 2017
Golf / Sport /

As part of a joint initiative to modernise golf’s Rules and make them easier to understand and apply, the R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews) and the United States Golf Association have today unveiled a preview of the proposed new Rules of Golf.

Among more than 50 new or modified Rules to simplify and speed up play, players will be able to putt on greens with the flag still in the cup and the time allowed to find a lost ball will be slashed from five to three minutes.

Golfers will also no longer be penalised for accidentally moving their ball while searching for it or while addressing putts (taking stance and grounding the club behind the ball).

Explaining the proposed rule changes in a teleconference, David Rickman, the R&A's Executive Director of Governance, stated “our aim is to make the Rules easier to understand and to apply for all golfers.

“It is important that the Rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played, but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character.”

However, Rickman emphasised that the Rule changes were extensive, explaining “rule changes happen regularly (but) this scale of review is something that happens less frequently.

"Probably 1952 and 1984 are the most recent times we've done something of this scale ... but we believe the changes will be good for the sport.

"We have aimed the revisions at the game as a whole so irrespective of ability and irrespective of where in the world you play."

While the proposed changes - to come into effect on 1st January 2019 - will more easily be enforced on the heavily scrutinised professional tours, Rickman admits some of the amendments will be open to exploitation at club level.

He added “we are placing even greater onus on player honesty but we think the game has a good record of that. We think the game is better for its self-regulating aspects.

"If players are going to not play by the rules and look to seek advantage, they can do it today (and) I completely accept that we've maybe added a few more that players could sail close to the wind with."

Rickman says the "trade-off" between relaxing many rules and making them more understandable for the average player is worth it.

Locally, Golf Australia is part of six-month feedback and evaluation process during which all golfers worldwide can learn about the proposed changes and provide input before they are finalised in 2018 and take effect in 2019.

The announcement follows a comprehensive review process that began in 2012 with a working group of key R&A and USGA Rules administrators, professional tour officials and other Rules experts. While the Rules are revised every four years, this is the first fundamental review since 1984, and was established to ensure the Rules fit the needs of today’s game and the way it is played around the world.

The proposed 24 new Rules, reduced from the current 34, have been written in a user-friendly style with shorter sentences, commonly used phrases, bulleted lists and explanatory headings. The initiative also focuses on assessing the overall consistency, simplicity and fairness of the Rules for play.

The Rules are currently delivered in more than 30 languages, and the proposed wording will support easier translation worldwide. When adopted, the Rules will be supported by technology that allows the use of images, videos and graphics.

Highlights of the proposed Rule changes include:

• 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.

• Simplified way of taking relief: A new procedure for taking relief by dropping a ball in and playing it from a specific relief area; relaxed procedures for dropping a ball, allowing the ball to be dropped from just above the ground or any growing thing or other object on the ground.

Thomas Pagel, Senior Director of Rules and Amateur Status for the USGA concluded “we are excited and encouraged by the potential this work brings, both through the proposed new Rules and the opportunities to use technology to deliver them.

“We look forward to an ongoing conversation with golfers during the feedback period in the months ahead.”

Golfers and golf industry stakeholders are encouraged to review the proposed changes and submit feedback online via worldwide survey technology that can be accessed at www.randa.org or www.usga.org/rules from now until 31st August 2017.

A series of materials have also been prepared to explain the proposed Rule changes and provide background on the initiative.

The R&A - a Scottish-based body has a governance role in golf along with America's USGA.

Click here to view Golf Australia's explanation of the rule changes.

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