The U.S. Golf Association and R&A’s first major rewrite of the Rules of Golf in the past 35 years has a lot of heads spinning.
Although the game will still be played with a club and ball, almost everything else we’ve known for the past three decades was fair game for change. Anyone who is a tournament player, club member, avid golfer or rules geek has some studying ahead before the new Rules of Golf implementation starting on Tuesday.
“You can’t … start 2019 without a basic understanding of the modifications to the Rules of Golf,” said rules expert Peter McGeoch, the official in charge for the upcoming NCAA Women’s Regional at University Ridge Golf Course in Wisconsin. “If that happens, it will be a nightmare for both the rules official and player. Education is the key here.”
The last major revision to the Rules of Golf was completed in 1984. The project was initiated and led by William J. Williams Jr., who served as USGA president from 1984 to 1986. At the time it was looked on as a major revision, and while it was significant because of its collaboration with the R&A, it was more of a reorganization than revision and included only two major changes.
For the committee that was formed in 2012 and tasked with bringing the Rules of Golf into the 21st century, a major concern became clear: The rules were too complicated, sometimes hard to find in the rule book and not always clear to most golfers. The bottom line: The Rules of Golf are complicated. With a book that contains hundreds of rules along with 500-plus pages of decisions, it was clear that a thoughtful look from a new perspective would be in everyone’s best interest.
In the new code, words such as “hazard” and phrases like “through the green” are gone. They have either been taken out completely or replaced with simpler to understand words or phrases.
A perfect example would be “through the green.” As golf has grown as a universal sport, the phrase “through the green” was almost impossible to understand when translated into different languages. It has been replaced with the term “general area” to cover all the course except four defined areas: the teeing area on the hole the player is starting, all bunkers, all penalty areas and the putting green of the hole the golfer is playing.
Significant help in making the new Rules of Golf easier to use and more understandable is also found in the first sentence of each rule. It’s called the purpose statement. No more hunting around trying to find the relevant section or digging in the decisions book. The first sentence gives the purpose for the rule and in many cases the rationale for its inclusion.
In an effort to bring clarity to the changes in the Rules of Golf, here are five major rules changes along with the rationale for each:
Rule 7.4 – Ball Accidentally Moved in Trying
to Find or Identify It
Under this new rule, if a player accidentally moves his ball while searching for it anywhere on the course, there is no penalty for causing it to move and the ball will be replaced. If the exact spot to replace the ball is not known, the player will replace the ball on the estimated original spot instead of dropping it, as is currently the case.
Rationale: Because a principal in the Rules of Golf is to play the ball as it lies, it is only fair that the rules provide some way for the player to find the ball and play it from that spot. When a ball is not readily found, players often need to move long grass, leaves and bushes, which makes it more likely the ball will move.
The current rules penalize a player or his caddie for causing a ball to move during a search, creating a situation where opponents, fellow competitors and others are able to search without consequences while the owner of the ball must watch, somewhat helplessly, for fear of penalty if he causes the movement.
Under the new code, the player and caddie no longer have to hold back while others search and, because the ball’s location is not known, eliminating
a penalty in this circumstance seems to be a reasonable exception to the general concept of a player being careful not to move a ball at rest.