It took a while, but after five years of work, the USGA and R&A on Wednesday announced their long-awaited modernization proposal for the Rules of Golf, a number of common-sense changes that should make the rules easier to understand and more intuitively fair.
Under the proposed code, the number of rules has been reduced from 34 to 24. Not only are the proposed rules themselves a more reasonable representation of the modern game, the presentation is expected to be a lot more user-friendly, with easy-to-read summaries and rules written from the player’s perspective to make the game less intimidating to enter and more fun to play.
The USGA and R&A will accept feedback on the proposed rules from players of all skill levels from all parts of the globe over the next six months. After incorporating feedback, the governing bodies will release a final revised code of rules next spring, with the code slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. In addition to issuing a full code of rules, the USGA and R&A will publish a shorter “players edition” that covers the most commonly used rules.
Some notable changes to how the game will be played under the proposed code include:
- There is no longer a penalty for accidentally moving your ball while searching for it, or for accidentally moving your ball or ball marker on the green;
- There is no longer a penalty when your ball in motion accidentally hits you (such as after your ball bounces off a bunker face);
- When taking relief, the dropping procedure has been relaxed, with the recommendation that the ball be dropped from at least one inch above the ground;
- A ball is deemed lost if it is not found within three minutes (rather than the current five minutes) after you begin searching for it;
- There is no longer a penalty if you play a ball from the green and it hits the unattended flagstick in the hole;
- You may repair almost all damage (including spike marks and animal damage) on the green;
- Red- and yellow-marked “penalty areas” may now cover areas such as deserts, jungles, or lava rock fields, in addition to areas of water;
- There is no longer a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments or touch the ground with your hand or your club in a penalty area;
- There is no longer a penalty if you touch or move loose impediments in a bunker; you are now prohibited only from touching the sand with your hand or club to test the condition of the bunker or with your club in the area right behind or in front of the ball, in making a practice swing or in making the backswing for your stroke.
- Your caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you from the time you begin taking your stance until you have made your stroke.
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Some of these proposed changes – like marking dense, wooded areas with hazard stakes to keep play moving and permitting the removal of rocks, leaves and beer cans from bunkers – have been used by club operators for decades, even though they were, technically, outside the rules. If everything goes as planned, not only will those rules of common sense be officially part of the game, you won’t have to dig through pages of legalese to find them.
That, on the whole, will be a refreshing change, indeed.
(For more on the rules modernization initiative, visit www.usga.org/rules.)