Revolutionary changes in The Rules of Golf long overdue

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Rickie Fowler of the United States get a ruling from PGA rules official John Lillvis on the 17th hole during the third round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on February 25, 2017 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Revolutionary changes in The Rules of Golf long overdue


Revolutionary changes in The Rules of Golf long overdue

The rules changes the R&A and USGA announced today aren’t a mere evolution of the laws which govern our game. They represent a revolution.

The Rules of Golf have gone through serious changes since the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield laid down the first 13 in 1744, but nothing like what’s being proposed for 2019. The governing bodies have basically ripped up the book and started again.

“A number of us have described this set of changes as the biggest in a generation,” R&A director of rules David Rickman said.

The original 13 rules consist of one-liners that were right for the time, such as Rule 10: “If a Ball be stopp’d by any person, Horse, Dog, or any thing else, the ball so stop’d must be played where it lyes.”

We’ve come a long way since horses and dogs were regular features on courses, but to go from 13 laws to 34 with four appendices and thousands of decisions has only made this stick-and-ball game more complex.

Many tour pros, people who should know the rules because their livelihoods depend on it, have thrown in the towel. Most call for a referee in the most straightforward of cases. That was part of the catalyst that drove the R&A and USGA to act.

“The biggest frustration I had was two-fold: one where people were so intimidated by them that they couldn’t even open the book and try to understand them,” Rickman said. “When people did open the rulebook and perhaps by great skill and endeavor find the right place to look, they still managed to be confused or get it wrong.”

Golfers of all persuasions, even those of us who have a good handle on the laws, share Rickman’s frustrations, which is why the governing bodies are to be commended for taking this bold step. Cutting the number to 24 from 34 and using plain English will help all golfers.

“We need our rules to be more accessible and to be easy to apply and understand,” Rickman admitted.

The 2019 Rules make an important fundamental shift toward assuming all players act with integrity, rather than the current status quo that seems to suggest guilt instead of innocence.

“Writing the rules for the honest player has been very much part of this work,” Rickman admitted.

Some of the changes make so much sense it’s a wonder they weren’t made earlier. Penalizing a player for striking the flagstick with a putt has never made sense. Many British clubs openly defy the R&A during winter months by allowing players to putt with the flag in to save wear and tear around the hole.

Penalizing a player if ball moves a fraction of an inch and gives no advantage was another bone of contention, which is why the governing bodies have suggested a player must be 95 percent certain his or her actions caused the ball to move.

Having to add one stroke because your ball caroms of a bunker face, hits you and remains in the bunker was another penalty that defied logic, which is why players will no longer be penalized for being struck by their ball in motion.

Perhaps the most celebrated change will be the new law outlawing caddies from lining up players.

“Alignment should be a personal skill for the player,” Rickman said. “When we reached that conclusion, we felt that we needed to proceed with this and needed to find language that prohibits this practice.”

Cue cheers from legions of golfers who have screamed at televisions when watching a caddie make sure his or her player was lined up properly.

There is a flip, though. Some will say not penalizing players for, say, accidentally moving a ball during a search will help the small percentage of golfers liberal with the laws.

“The rules are open to being misapplied or being breached already,” Rickman said. “Players have a track record on behaving with honesty and integrity and this code looks to reinforce that.”

There will of course be teething problems moving from the current rules to the new laws, but this is a huge step in the right direction toward a common-sense approach.

It’s taken five years and seven drafts to get to this point but it’s been worth it. Bring on 2019. Vive la revolution!


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